Young Fishermen Friday Winter Profiles

In the midst of winter, stories of the vibrant Alaska salmon season bring us back to the splendors of summertime. Sharing tales and adventures from the fishing season keep us connected to our seafaring community and the unique and wild places we return to each year. Every week on our social media channels, Salmon Sisters shares the stories of commercial fishermen who live, work, and rely on the ocean. From the Alaskan Peninsula, to Bristol Bay, to Prince William Sound, we heard from four young fishermen who are proud to harvest wild Alaska seafood. Read on for a glimpse into their unique lives on the water – we promise you'll start dreaming of salmon. 

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We want to hear from you! Complete a Young Fisherman Friday submission to share your story. 
@aksalmonsisters | facebook.com/aksalmonsisters 

Hayley Gjertsen | @_hayleyg, @hayleygjertsen
F/V Kamanu
Sockeye Salmon 〰️ Bristol Bay

Check out Hayley's video highlighting her summer in Bristol Bay.

What (or who) got you hooked on fishing? 
"My Dad got me hooked on fishing. He’s been a commercial fisherman for over 30 years. Growing up, my Dad used to take us to a lake by our house to go fishing. I’d cry when we caught a fish and I saw the hook in its mouth—so naturally, my Dad never expected me to join him commercial fishing. One summer when I was in college, he invited me to come see what it’s all about. It was amazing to finally be at the place my Dad had told stories about my whole life. Something about Bristol Bay resonated with me, so when my Dad asked if I wanted to come fish with him the following summer I decided to give it a shot! I think once you experience a season in Bristol Bay—all the challenges and all the beauty that comes with it—it’s hard to find a reason not to come back and do it again if you have the chance."

Share something about yourself that you're proud of when you're out fishing. What are your strengths? How would your crew describe you?
"I’m especially proud of being a woman when I’m out fishing. I love pushing the boundaries of a male-dominated industry and proving that women can be just as capable of being a great crew member as men. I think crew members would describe me as easy to work with. We find a routine, stick with it and perfect it so we know what to expect and everything runs smoothly."

What keeps you coming back each season?
"Nearing the end of my very first season in Bristol Bay, I couldn’t wait to go home and I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t think I want to do this again.” But I found myself back on the boat again the next year. It’s like it gets in your blood and after that happens it’s hard not to come back. Once you get back on land at the end of the season, all the difficult times seem to melt away and you realize what an awesome experience it all was. It's so worth it. That’s what keeps bringing me back—knowing that it is always a summer well spent and knowing that I get to spend invaluable time with my Dad."

What is the best advice you've been given as you embarked on your fishing career? What advice would you give to other young fishermen?
"A phrase that resonates with me when things start getting challenging is “this too shall pass.” It comes to mind when I feel seasick or exhausted, or even when I wake up in a really bad mood. Everything is temporary and how you are feeling now is not a permanent feeling. I would give that same advice to other young fishermen who are struggling with getting through the season or they don’t see a break in sight. Just reminding yourself of this phrase is comforting and it’s always true. The bad weather, the bad mood, the seasickness, the lack of sleep—it all passes and you will be okay."

What do you do with your down time on the water? Tell us how you pass the time during breaks and closures.
"My favorite thing to do during downtime on the water is to read! I bring at least 5 books with me. My favorite place to read is when we are anchored up in the slough in Nushagak with the water softly lapping at the side of the boat as we slowly rotate on anchor with the ebb or flow of the tide." 

When you close your eyes and think about fishing, what do you see?
"When I close my eyes and think about fishing, I think of the incredible sunrises and sunsets that we get to experience throughout the season. It’s one of the things I’m most grateful for as a byproduct of going fishing—to have the opportunity to connect with nature and disconnect from technology."

What is the most important thing commercial fishing has taught you?
"It’s hard to pick just one, but the most important thing commercial fishing has taught me is not necessarily related to fishing. It’s taught me the importance of taking time out of your life to disconnect, rid yourself of distractions, reflect, and change up your routine. It’s beautiful to live such a simple life for a couple months. I love to disconnect from the rest of the world when I'm in Bristol Bay. I do my best thinking up there. When I come home, my body is tired, but my mind is ready to take a refreshed approach to the way I live my life."

What do you want the world to know about your work as a fisherman and the seafood you harvest?
"I want people to know that commercial fishing in Bristol Bay is sustainably and strategically regulated. We’re able to put this incredible superfood on people's plates all around the world, while also ensuring a healthy future for salmon to continue returning to the Bay in staggering numbers. I want people to know that fishermen in Bristol Bay have the upmost respect for these amazing fish and a desire to protect and sustain such a valuable natural resource."

Tell us about your favorite galley meal or seafood recipe.
"My favorite galley meal is salmon alfredo pasta. We eat salmon almost every day, so it’s nice to try alternative ways of cooking it—plus, the pasta makes for a great carb-loaded meal for extra energy!"

 

Connor Murphy | @imconnormurphy
F/V Entrance Point
Salmon 〰️ Alaska Peninsula Set Net

What (or who) got you hooked on fishing?
"Growing up in Kodiak and spending my summers in Port Moller watching my father manage a salmon fishery, I've been around the commercial fishing industry my whole life. I got started fishing to help get through college and landed a job on a high liner. After my first season I knew I wanted to make it a career, it took off from there."

Share something about yourself that you're proud of when you're out fishing. What are your strengths? How would your crew describe you?
"I only drift gill netted out of Port Moller for 2 seasons before buying my Area M set net permit. I had zero experience set netting before hand so I had to teach myself, but I've done really well and I'm proud of that. I like to keep it laid back and have fun when there is time, but when the fish are around, it's all business."

What keeps you coming back each season?
"To me fishing isn't just a job, it's a way of life. You get rewarded on how hard you work and it's probably one of the only industries where one can work and harvest the natural world in a sustainable manner that is going to be around for generations to come."

What is the best advice you've been given as you embarked on your fishing career? What advice would you give to other young fishermen?
"Never quit. Some days are great, others are bad but if you keep the net in the water everyday the fishery is open you'll always do alright; unless the weather is too bad where it is unsafe, of course. If you want to make fishing your career and have your own operation, refrain from buying a brand new truck after a big season and save your money. Also, pay your taxes and get yourself a good accountant."

What do you do with your down time on the water? Tell us how you pass the time during breaks and closures.
"There is always something to be done when we are not fishing whether it be gear work, cleaning, engine maintenance etc, however, beach combing, four wheeling, making trips to the legendary Port Moller hot springs, and a good nap are some of the activities I enjoy to pass the down time."

When you close your eyes and think about fishing, what do you see?
"I see my net lighting up with hitters up and down the net during a tide change, with a slight westerly breeze and no seals in sight to steal them."

Tell us about a day during your fishing season when everything seemed to go wrong.
"
Rolling up nets and getting caught in dangerous weather is no fun, but my worst day of fishing is when the Peter Pan Port Moller cannery burned down in 2017. Fishing was really good that day, but that night the cannery caught fire so we spent the whole night and the following day putting out the fire. The next morning I had to pull my net since I had no market, but the tide pushed the burnt debris in my net and it was a total mess. Port Moller is my second home and watching it go up in flames was devastating. To make things worse, it was my first season and I had just put every penny I owned in to my set net operation and with the only market gone, there was a lot of uncertainty on what was going to happen in the future. Luckily, Peter Pan is committed to building a new and much more modern processing facility and should be operational this upcoming season."

What is the most important thing commercial fishing has taught you?
"Respect the ocean. We make our livings out on the ocean, but if we don't take care of it and respect it, it won't respect us back."

What do you want the world to know about your work as a fisherman and the seafood you harvest?
"We work hard and sometimes put our lives on the line to put food on the table for the world because we believe our product is the most sustainable, healthy, and delicious form of protein on the planet. There is no seafood that is comparable to wild Alaska seafood."

Tell us about your favorite galley meal or seafood recipe.
"Spam and egg fried rice is the breakfast favorite however, nothing can top a fresh sockeye that is caught, filleted, and cooked yourself. King crab is awesome too."

 


Casey Coupchiak | @eskimogypsea
F/V Maddie C
Sockeye Salmon 〰️ Bristol Bay

How long have you been a commercial fisherman?
"
I’ve been a commercial fisherman for 10+ years. My father’s side of the family is from the village of Togiak on the shore of Bristol Bay. They have been fishing for ages. My grandfather used to fish in a sailboat and I’m sure his father before him, etc. I like to think commercial fishing is in my blood."

What (or who) got you hooked on fishing?
"
I inherited my permit from my late grandfather which got me fishing regularly, but what got me hooked was the exhilarating feeling of being on the water all summer and the thought that I am a part of a life cycle."

Tell us about your crew! Do you fish with your family, friends, different people every season?
"
I started fishing with family and have had some friends fish from time to time. It’s been great to have friends come and see what this fishing life is all about. For the most part I fish with family and it’s great to bond with them over the summer and work as a team through the season."

When you close your eyes and think about being on the water during fishing season, what do you see?
"
When I close my eyes I see simultaneous sunsets and sunrises, huge smiling faces on the crew when clatters of sockeye are splashing as they hit the gillnet, hundreds of boats moving in all directions, north, south, east, and west just trying to figure out where the fish are. It’s an incredible sight to see and it never gets old…ok, maybe when you’re out there and it’s windy and rainy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else!"

What have Alaska's oceans and fish taught you?
"
Alaska’s oceans and fish continue to teach me year after year and always will. I learn something new every season. Fishermen are constantly learning every season, because the ocean and fish are ever changing their ways. Sometimes fish circle back to past habits, say running close to shore, but the ocean has a mind of her own and as the climate changes, the weather changes and so the ocean with it. Overall, the ocean has taught me to be cautious, yet stern. The fish have taught me to persevere, just like they do."

What's the best advice you've been given as you embarked on your fishing career?
"
The best advice I’ve been given is to believe in myself. Everybody out there was a greenhorn once, and now they are great fishermen. The people that have told me I can do it over and over have inspired me to believe that I CAN do it. Advice from family and other fishermen have helped me believe I can be a great fisherman too."

What do you want the world to know about your work as a fisherman and the seafood you harvest?
"Fishing is so alluring to those who have not done it or haven’t been to Alaska. It’s a tough job, but I think it is very rewarding in knowledge and in harvest. It’s a gamble we fishermen take each year, the season could have a great prediction of returning fish, but then it is how you execute your season. Hard work, dedication, knowledge from past seasons. The risk and the extreme hard work involved is not really realized by people picking up a wild sockeye fillet at the grocery store. People also don’t realize that fishermen are some of the greatest conservationists. We care about our resource. We fight to protect it. That brings me to what I wish most for people to realize. I want the world to know what an amazing animal a salmon is! They return year after year after year facing danger throughout their life cycle and fight to complete the circle (of life). As a fisherman, I see myself as helping to protect and perpetuate that. I am so proud to fish in a fishery that is so well managed for sustainability. In Bristol Bay, we don’t fish unless there is enough salmon escapement to spawn a healthy run the next spring. I feel like most of us do not want to fish if the escapement is low, I would rather have fish for the future. When escapement is high, I feel good that we are helping to prevent over escapement and allow for optimum sustainability. I will fight to protect these fish. They are the life blood of my people and an amazing natural resource to help feed the world."

What is your favorite seafood recipe?
"
I might be old school, but my favorite salmon recipe is just a slab of sockeye with some butter, salt, and pepper. The flavor of the fish is what I want to taste! I also love traditional Eskimo strips like my family in Togiak makes."

Is there anything else you want to share about Alaska's fisheries & fishing community?
"
Alaska’s fisheries, people and all, help provide some of the best protein anyone can get on the planet. Supporting wild caught seafood supports a way of life and helps protect a resource that has nourished people from the beginning of time."

 

Andrew Walker
F/V Odyssey
Pink Salmon 〰️ Prince William Sound 

What (or who) got you hooked on fishing?
"The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, the locations I’ve seen, and the things I’ve learned."

Share something about yourself that you're proud of when you're out fishing. What are your strengths? How would your crew describe you?
"I don’t complain, I don’t slow down, and I can’t stand making the same mistake twice. I think the people I’ve worked with would describe me as quiet, tolerant, resilient, and easy to work/live with."

What keeps you coming back each season?
"The promise of gaining experience and learning new things, the friends I’ve made, the friends I will make, the community, and having an acceptable reason to escape “civilized” society and spend time in the most beautiful, pristine place I have ever seen."

What is the best advice you've been given as you embarked on your fishing career? What advice would you give to other young fishermen?
"The best advice I have been given is 'keep your hands out of your pockets.' Stay busy and move with alacrity. If you can’t find something to do, find something to clean. If I were to give advice to other young fishermen, I would say to never ignore an opportunity to learn something new, and always learn from mistakes. Don’t take things personally, don’t be confrontational, keep your head down and keep working."

What do you do with your down time on the water? Tell us how you pass the time during breaks and closures.
"During breaks and closures, I enjoy taking the skiff or zodiac to land if the weather permits - hiking, berry picking, fires, exploring the coastline, and all the other things that come with putting a group of boat-dwellers on land in absolute wilderness.
Pulling shrimp pots, catching halibut, rafting up, and having a cookout with friends is a great way to spend a closure. If I’m feeling solitary I like to find a quiet spot to read. It’s also great to jump off the roof of the wheelhouse on a hot day!"

When you close your eyes and think about fishing, what do you see?
"When I close my eyes and think about fishing, I see the net pouring off the stern, the skiff on the beach, and the plunger bursting through the surface of the water. I see the purse line winding around the deck winch, the power block churning, and the salt water mixed with jellyfish glistening as it falls out of the block. I see the water boiling with fish as we approach the bunt end of our net, and I see the excitement in the eyes and smiles on the faces of the crew as bags of bright salmon spill over the rail. Finally, I see the exhaustion and satisfaction on the faces of the crew as we dig into a hot meal after offloading our harvest of the day."

Tell us about a day during your fishing season when everything seemed to go wrong.
"The genset not starting, popping the main breaker, water hauls, ripping the net, pulling up a thousand pounds of kelp. Altercations between crew members, disagreements with the captain, getting corked. And after a day filled with all the wrong things, having the anchor jammed in the winch when it’s time to set the anchor for the night."

What is the most important thing commercial fishing has taught you?
"The most important thing commercial fishing has taught me is to be able to find the positive side of every situation. Even if there is no money being made, you still have the privilege of being in such an amazing, remote location."

What do you want the world to know about your work as a fisherman and the seafood you harvest?
"I want the world to know how much we care about our fisheries and how well-regulated they are in order to ensure that fishermen have a sustainable way of life for years to come."

Tell us about your favorite galley meal or seafood recipe.
"It’s hard to choose just one...nothing beats fresh salmon that is caught, prepared, and eaten in the same day. A couple of fillets with garlic, some kind of citrus infusion, or teriyaki. Baked, grilled, or pan-seared. Accompanied by rice or potatoes, and asparagus or stir-fried vegetables. Also can’t go wrong with fish tacos."

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We want to hear from you! Complete a Young Fisherman Friday submission to share your story. 

@aksalmonsisters | facebook.com/aksalmonsisters

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