Last month, National Fisherman Magazine featured our writing in their Youngbloods column. "Let your Fish Flag Fly" focused on ways we, as young fishermen, can educate ourselves, build skills, and get involved in our coastal communities to maintain vibrance in our fishing industry. We hope that you will be inspired too, to find small ways in which you can participate in our big fishing family.
"My sister and I grew up in a fishing family. While our parents gill-netted in Area M and long-lined in the Bering Sea, the two of us were raised on the swell of excitement over a healthy salmon run and the disappointment of a halibut hook hauled empty. Our home, Stonewall Place, was an isolated homestead on the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula, positioned at the entrance of False Pass, Alaska. It was if we were the gatekeepers to the Bering Sea, allowing all fishing boats, cargo ships and ferries to sail safety through the Pass into the wild, windy West.
Our first jobs were on deck, picking salmon out of gillnets and baiting halibut hooks. We’ve spent every summer of our lives commercial fishing on our family’s boats, and now in our 20s, have begun to understand what this experience has given us. The ocean has provided our family with sustenance, work, and a way of life. This life is synched to the seasons, the natural ebb and flow of growth and death, abundance and scarcity. The ocean has taught us the importance of resourcefulness, toughness and respect for our resources. It has given us the means to pursue an education and has provided us with infinite inspiration. When we graduated from college several years ago we started our own company, Salmon Sisters, and through it, we attempt to give back to the ocean, its creatures and its people, all that it has given to us.
Our goal is to connect people to their state’s fisheries while highlighting the importance of sustainability, healthy oceans, and coastal communities. The clothing and products that we design for Salmon Sisters celebrate our state’s people and natural resources. People wear our designs to show pride, to identify with their community, and to celebrate what makes Alaska their home. Alongside our apparel, we offer seafood which is sourced directly from fisherwomen in our state, providing our customers with a trustworthy source and a story behind their sustainably wild-caught fish. We celebrate the strong women working in our fishing industry and strive to create incentive for them by offering them a personal connection to their market and a larger network of fishermen.
Through Salmon Sisters, we’ve met incredible young people in the fishing industry — a small but mighty group that will become the next generation of Alaska’s fishermen. Most of us have come from fishing families; our heritage as fishermen has been passed down from our parents and grandparents. We must keep this inherited knowledge and tradition alive if we hope to keep our fisheries alive, thus it becomes essential that as young fishermen we invest in our shared future.
So, we urge you to become a steward of your fisheries. Realized that your job isn’t over when you put your boat away for the winter. Help your community, state, and our nation understand the importance of healthy, wild and diverse fisheries. Give the public a face to their fishermen, offer a truthful and honest connection for consumers. Change seafood from a commodity to a story, a traceable product caught by independent fishermen in pristine waters that’s delicious and healthy. Ask consumers to care about where their food comes from and what they’re putting into their bodies.
Educate yourselves on the regulations, policy decisions and process behind the management of our fisheries. Find a mentor in your area to attend meetings with. Start a community storytelling event to celebrate your community’s connection to the ocean. Attend events like the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit to learn about financing options available to you when starting your own fishing operation. Try a new fishery in your off-season to enhance your skills and gain perspective from a different gear type. Get merchant mariner credentials and work on a search vessel, supply ship or pleasure boat. Learn a marine trade or professional skills by attending your local community college or taking an online course. Refresh your ASMI safety and CPR skills, apprentice or intern at your local net mending facility. Work for a local fisheries-related non-profit or conservation group, volunteer for their events. Direct market your catch, work with restaurants on educating staff on wild Alaska seafoods—their sustainability, traceability and health benefits. Get fish into schools, teach kids why eating wild fish is good for their bodies and their minds. Use your boat for oil response, water taxi or tender during the off-season. Feel confident that the resourcefulness, creativity and gumption that long seasons fishing have taught you is enough to tackle any project on or off the boat. You are not afraid of hard work and you are well-equipped to make a different in your community. Let’s own our identity as young fishermen, get involved and give back. Our time is now."