Our community is full of women who are leaders in the fishing and maritime industry, scientific community and outdoor world. Their work and interests revolve around salmon, and their stewardship helps keep our oceans and streams healthy. We are proud to celebrate the words, photos and ideas of our Salmon Sisters Ambassadors and elevate their important work as salmon stewards within our community and beyond.
Salmon Sisters Ambassador Lindsay Layland is the Deputy Director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay. The first of its kind, UTBB is a tribally-chartered consortium working to conserve the region’s pristine salmon habitat and traditional ways of life of the indigenous peoples that call Bristol Bay home. Lindsay’s efforts focus on halting unsustainable mining projects that threaten this watershed, such as the proposed Pebble Mine. In the summertime, when the salmon return to southwest Alaska you can find Lindsay in her set net skiff fishing the mud flats of Nushagak Bay. Read on to learn more about Lindsay’s work, life and adventures in this incredible place that she is fighting so hard to protect.
"My life-long commercial fishing career started like that of so many other Alaskans - I began working with my dad on his Bristol Bay set net skiff in the late 90’s and graduated to become his primary deckhand in my high school years. When I was 22 I took over for him mid-season after an injury sidelined his picking abilities, and at 23, was fortunate enough to build (or rather, pay someone else to build) a new boat to venture out on my own to the mud flats of Nushagak Bay. A few seining stints in Area M and Kodiak showed me a world outside of Bristol Bay, but never drew me away for good.
For the last 6 years I’ve run a crew of 5 people, learning the balance of being a respected leader and a trusted crew mate. I still don’t have it quite figured out, and don’t think I ever fully will, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow year after year. There was a steep learning curve when I transitioned from being my dad’s deckhand to guiding a full crew of 5 young men - a learning curve I’ve come to appreciate and respect, despite my many fumbles along the way.
I grew up in Dillingham, Alaska, before my family moved to the Kenai Peninsula in the early 2000’s. Having spent every summer of my life on the waters of Nushagak Bay, I only know to celebrate the 4th of July with expired flares and faces turned South to watch the enormous floating processor boats ignite proper fireworks from their massive decks. I truly cherish my childhood spent in this region. Summers blend together with vivid memories of intense mosquito bites while berry picking out on the tundra and getting scolded for sneaking fresh smoked salmon strips from my mom’s smokehouse. Winters of frigid cold and ice fishing, setting and checking trap lines with my dad and brother, and bringing a beaver tail to my 2nd grade class for ‘show and tell’ stand out among many other adventures. My family, of course, was initially responsible for my upbringing in this place, but it is the lifestyle and tradition that have grounded me since returning to live year-round in Dillingham just over 3 years ago.
Living in Bush Alaska definitely has its challenges (like the high cost of living, unreliable flight service, and dark, cold winters), but its rewards far outweigh the difficulties. The rich culture, vast beauty, and wild expanse of this place make it what it is - a land like no other. In the winter, my friends and I quite literally put on skis in the driveway, and mere minutes later find ourselves traipsing through untouched wilderness across meadows, over frozen ponds, and through dense spruce and birch forests. In the spring, we prepare for our first hikes into the Wood-Tikchik State Park - the largest state park in the country - and mend our nets for the first outing on the river to catch fresh King Salmon. Summers are a blur, with commercial and subsistence fishing taking up every hour of every day in June, July, and August. Come fall, we go moose hunting - hoping for that 75-inch rack on a seasoned bull but always satisfied if we are successful in bringing home fresh meat, regardless of antler size. The true bounty that we live off all year long is just one example of how unique life is in Bristol Bay. Despite my two chest-freezers and pantry shelves packed with moose, salmon, and berries, I often forget how good I have it. Perhaps what I appreciate most about this region is the abundance it provides while simultaneously humbling my existence in it.
In the off-season (September - May), my work is tied to a tireless fight to protect a place that has always been pristine from unsustainable, large-scale, open-pit mining. Namely, the proposed Pebble Mine. I’ve worked the past 2 years supporting the efforts of 15 tribes (@Unitedtribesofbristolbay) who came together to protect the traditional way of life of the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq people of Southwest Alaska. Standing next to, working for, fighting with, and learning from the tribal leaders of this region has been the most rewarding job of my life, as well as the most challenging. Now more than ever, the threat of development at Pebble looms. The dedicated people of this region will never give up on their fight to protect the lands and waters that have sustained their way of life for centuries, but that doesn’t stop the Pebble Project from moving forward in the federal permitting process. Nearly a year ago, the Pebble Partnership submitted an application for a federal permit to build a mine in Bristol Bay - located at the headwaters of the world’s greatest wild salmon run. Development of this project alone, not to mention a potential tailings dam spill, inevitable human error, polluting healthy streams, and extracting millions of cubic feet of untouched earth once it’s built, would devastate our region.
To protect our salmon, our livelihoods, our people, and the health of our lands and waters for future generations, we must act now by remaining vigilant and vocal in this critical effort. Coming early 2019 will be a public comment period for the Army Corps of Engineers’ soon-to-be-released Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the Pebble Project. It is the only opportunity to weigh in on the entirety of the permitting process, and any and all who care about the health of our region and all it sustains deserve to have their voices heard. To stay informed about this work, visit utbb.org for information and updates along the way.
From commercial and subsistence fishing to hunting and berry picking, I’ve re-discovered my home in Bristol Bay. It is truly a place like no other on this earth, and I will fight for my entire life to keep it that way. Just like the salmon, the people of this region are resilient, and we will never stop returning to our home – no matter how far we go.