Friday, March 30, 2012

Coffee with Murkowski

We pulla da nets, to maka da mon, to buya da bread, to getta da stren’, to pulla da nets
--Lament of a Bristol Bay fisherman

Earlier this week I went to Washington D.C.   I wanted to meet with one of Senators, Lisa Murkowski and let her know how this fisherman feels about the Proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. 

Senator Lisa Murkowski and me

Bristol Bay is an American national treasure.  It is nestled in southwestern Alaska, near Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark.  It is 250 miles long and180 miles wide at its mouth with a number of rivers flowing into the bay, including the Naknek, Kvichak, Egegik, Ugashik, Nushagak, Wood, and Togiak.   It is known as the “salmon capitol of the world” with an extremely productive marine ecosystem that maintains the largest wild salmon run in the world.  Up to 44 million salmon return annually to Bristol Bay, making it Alaska’s richest commercial fishery, bringing in nearly one-third of all of Alaska’s salmon harvest earnings.   The fishery is a $350 million dollar industry that supports over 12,000 jobs and is celebrating it’s 125th season this year.

In addition to a robust and sustainable sockeye and Chinook salmon run, Bristol Bay is one of the world’s most pristine naturally wild areas with magnificent wildlife, scenery, and marine ecosystems, a world-class refuge.  It’s a birder’s paradise, a hunter’s delight, and a sport fishermen’s dream.   It’s a sanctuary for brown bear, moose, caribou, millions of  waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds, walruses, seals, fish and sixteen different species of whales.

The Pebble deposit is a massive, low-grade deposit of gold, copper and molybdenum (which is often used in high strength steel alloy) located at the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two rivers that flow into Bristol Bay.  If built, Pebble would be one of the largest open pit mines in the world, some 3 ½ miles wide.   Pebble proposes using tailings dams to permanently store the estimated 10 billion tons of mining waste that is material that is too toxic to be released back into the environment.   These tailings dams would cover 10 square miles and the tallest will be nearly the height of the Empire State building.  Tailings dams are known as the Achilles Heel of the mining industry and fail at a rate of 2 a year around the world since 1919 with the result of loss of life and irreversible pollution.  Anyone else think storing millions of tons of toxic waste permanently behind a wall of dirt at the mouth waters of the largest salmon run in the world a bad idea?  As if that isn’t enough, did I mention that Alaska is an active earthquake area averaging 5,000 quakes annually.  Moreover, did I mention that Pebble is owned by a Chinese company and the 2nd largest mining company in the world?

Pissed off yet?  I know I am.

So far there are several groups opposed to Pebble and our numbers are growing.   On board are Trout Unlimited, Alaska Coalition, Renewable Resources Foundation, Save Bristol Bay, and Fishermen for Bristol , to name a few.  There are 77 commercial fishing organizations from Alaska to Maine currently oppose Pebble Mine.  However, this is still a David against Goliath fight.   So what are we going to do about it? 

From what I gathered by visiting with Senator Lisa Murkowski and her staff, Pebble will and is proceeding with the permit process.  To preemptively veto that would result in a law suits and court battles that would blow up in all of our pretty little faces.  Pebble has some deep pockets.  Until it is time for public comment, which may not be until next year,  there are a handful of things we can do now. 

1.     Spread the word.  Many folks have never even heard about Bristol Bay or it’s threats.  Tell everyone you know.  Send them to one of these sites to keep tabs on what is happening. 

2.     A couple of suggestions were made to me by Murkowski’s staff members.  One was to send letters to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to urge the Obama administration to protect Bristol Bay by initiating a Clear Water Act 404 (c).  The EPA had the authority to safeguard the valuable habitat of Bristol Bay watershed.

3.     Weed through Pebble’s research to find erroneous data and write to my legislation when I find some.   Evidently, there are about 24, 000 pages of research to go through.  OK, I’ll take the first 12,000 pages, who wants to take the second half?  The data can be found at the bottom of the page here under documents:
Seriously, who’s on board to help  me sift through this?

In the mean time, drop a line here and let me know what ideas or suggestions you have to help stop this monstrosity from happening. 

I’m out. 

Friday, March 23, 2012



Hear that?


Can you hear that?

That’s the sound the kinky boys make when they sniff their way back to Alaska.  They have swum the distance, went wherever it is king salmon go, did whatever it is that king salmon do and are now, right now, swimming their way back home.  Can you hear them now? Isn’t that exciting? The King Salmon are returning!

50 lb Copper River King, 2011

This is such an exciting time of year.  The fish buzz is just beginning.  The season is approaching and I think I have just enough money to make it through.  Barely. The process of selective memory is complete and I have forgotten all the reasons that I hate to fish and all the aches and pains it causes and only remember what I love about it.  Being on the water with the chance that this next set might make me rich!  And the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and nice calm days (hey, this is my fishing fantasy, and in my fantasy, the weather is always nice on the Copper River.)

17 lb Copper River King circa 2001 caught on my boat
 f/v King-N-I

I have even forgotten the promise that I made my friend make, that if I even talked about wanting to go fishing again, to run, not walk, to the kitchen.  Get out her biggest cast iron pan and bang me over the head with it until I have come to my senses.  I wonder if she forgot this promise, too...Oh well, she’s not here.  

40-ish lb Copper River King circa 2001 on King-N-I

Halibut season opened last week, March 17th, Sitka Herring is gearing up.  Next thing you know, it will be May 15th, which is opening day (give or take) of the Copper River in Cordova, Alaska!  In the past there have been helicopters on the fishing grounds waiting for the first king salmon.  They shuttle the fish to town where it hops on a plane bound for Seattle.  Where chefs are waiting for it, waiting to cook it up right for folks who get to have it for dinner, an exquisite dinner of King Salmon that was caught that very same day!  But, shh!  Nobody tell the salmon about the fate it awaits when it returns home.  Let that be our little secret. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Fisherman's Reverence

This has been a sad, sad week for fishermen and their loved ones.  Some are calling it the “most deadly 24 hours” in recent history for the Pacific.   Off the coast of Washington and Oregon, six men, five fishermen and one federal fisheries observer, lost their lives this week and three boats have been lost.  Four men are missing from the 70-foot  F/V Lady Cecelia, a trawler fishing off the coast of Washington.  The U.S. Coast Guard suspended their search last Sunday.  Two other men lost their lives when their boat capsized near Gold Beach.  A third boat, the F/V Chevelle ran aground on a jetty in Newport, OR.  All four survived but the 70-foot crabber remained slammed against the rocks, getting torn apart with each crashing wave.   Click here to read more:

My heart sinks typing this.  While I don’t think this is every fisherman’s nightmare, I think this is the nightmare of every fisherman’s friends, family and loved ones.   We fishermen don’t fear being lost at sea, but our families fear it for us.  I’d like to take a moment to remember those lost at sea.  Not only those lost this last week but also all who have been lost at sea.

Before I read the news of those lost men and boats, I had been planning on answering the request of posting some videos from this year’s Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria. Then I read the news and my heart sank.  Through out the week, I grappled with whether I should stick to my plan or write about the recent tragedies at sea.  I knew I couldn’t just ignore the heartbreak of loosing fishermen but I also wanted to keep sharing the stories of fishermen.  And that is what I decided to do, to share our stories in the remembrance of all those lost at sea.  I wanted to revere those men and women who are no longer with us and who can no longer tell their own stories.  It is up to us to keep their memory alive by telling their stories for them and continuing to tell our own tales of the sea in honor of those men and women who only the gulls know where they lay.

Fisher Poets Dave Densmore says it well in his poem “The Edge” found on this youtube video:  He nails it again
with his poem found below, “The Ride” where he talks about being rescued at sea by a passing Japanese fishing boat. 

Dave Densmore

Those men on there were fishermen,
Fish and sea, were our ties.
The sympathy and solicitude
Showed plainly in their eyes.
Well, the did all they could,
As though we were their very own.
I’ll be forever grateful
To those men who brought us home.
Now you can draw your own
I know I sure have mine.
I thank God, every day,
For this life so sweet and fine.

Fisher Poet Mary Garvey has the voice of a nautical angel.  Her song “Tie it up and let it rot” is one of her many original sea shanties about fishing.  Check out her video here:

My own poems, Value, Free and my silly Xtra-Tuff song  can be found on youtube here at: 

Other Fisher Poets can be found on Pat Dixon’s page “in the tote” found here:

Until next time, fair winds and safe returns.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Green Eyes, Part II

 I have to pull a net full of green eyes in by hand.  My situation just got depressing.  This is one of those times I wish there were someone else aboard.  But, alas, I fish by myself, so all tasks fall on me to do, even the unpleasant ones.
            I take a big sigh and start to pull.  “This is going to be a mess” I think to myself.  As I pull these bastards in I have to pile the net on deck.  It doesn’t take long before I have no place to stand.  I’m trying to pull with all my might and I keep losing my footing because I’m standing on net and spiky fish.  Adrenaline is pumping, sweat is pouring.  I’m burning up inside my raingear.  It doesn’t matter.  I have to get this net in.  I put one foot on the gunnels for leverage.   And there is no place for my feet on deck anyway.  I pull.  I get pulled. “What the hell, over?” I exclaim (again, to myself).  I put both feet on the gunnels.  This gives me more leverage, but if whatever is weighing to much wins, I’m going in the drink.  I heave.  Again I get pulled.  I feel like a cartoon character as I can’t see what is causing this.  Then I hear “watchya doin’?”  Where did this voice come from?  Surprised, I look up and there is Phil.  I was so engrossed in my tug a war I didn’t hear him pull up.  I yank on the net one more time.  This time I win.  As I do I go flying backwards and land on my back on top of my pile of net and green eyes.  As I land I see a big king salmon come flying over the rollers!  “Holy shit!” I cheer.  I didn’t even see him.  It was pure luck that he didn’t fall out of my net during my tug a war session.  He must have weighed 40 pounds.  I stand up to answer Phil.  “I’m having a blast. Did you see that king?” I pant, as I am out of breath from my current task.  I am now also all slimy from falling on my net and fish.  “Can I give you a hand?”  He asks casually.  “Yeah”.
            He motors over to the end of my net and starts picking it up, as his reel is bigger than mind and can accommodate this.  I take a moment to catch my breath and sigh in relief as my net is finally out of the water.  It only takes Phil a few minutes to pick up my net.  We are now bow to bow.  My work is not done.  I still have to pull my net in by hand, but it’s much, much easier now.  I pile it on my bow.  Once I get it all aboard I thank Phil for his help.         
            I head into my cabin.  My coffee is still on my counter.  I take a swig, its ice cold.  Ah, the life of a fisherman.  I put on my headset and head south to deeper waters.  I have to get rid of these green eyes but I have to run far enough away so I don’t catch more in the process.  My boat feels funny as its all bow heavy from all the green eyes.  It looks deck loaded.  And it is, just not with salmon. 
            I run about 15 minutes wishing I could run longer as I’m not looking forward to the task at hand.  Alas, I can delay the inevitable any longer.  I find a spot where no one is around.  I throw it in neutral.  I crawl back into my raingear and head out on deck.  I throw my buoy over and put the boat in reverse.  I play my net that is stacked on deck out by hand.  I groan in disdain as I can hear it ripping from all the green eyes in it.  I cringe every time I hear that sounds.  Once I get to the net that is on the reel, its goes out a little more smoothly now.  But, I am still setting very slowly as not to rip it up.  Once I get the whole thing out I can start to haul it back in.  The green eyes are still in it, but the come out much easier now that they are dead.  For one, they are not fighting me and they are more limp.   But these things are even more disgusting looking now that they are dead, if you can believe that.  And they stink.  So, I pick them out and throw them over, one by one.  There is no market for these things in Alaska.  To bad too, otherwise I could have just made a lot of money.  I finally get my net cleaned out and back aboard and am ready to fish. I look at the clock, it’s 12 noon.   That venture was only a 5 hour waste of time.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Green Eyes

First off, I have to apologize for the wonky blue and pink colors on my blog.  I don't know what's going on, they just showed up one day, but, not to worry, I have my IT department (AKA, me) on it.   Now, to our regularly scheduled PickFish Tales.

Green Eyes!
            Its 7:30 in the morning.  My feet are on the gunnels and I’m pulling my net in by hand with all my guts.  It’s like a game of tug a war.  First, I pull.  Then, I get pulled.  My deck and reel are full with green eyes.  I can hardly even stand up. Their spikes are everywhere.  They stink and slither all over.  Then Phil shows up and says “Watchya doin’?”
            It’s a nice calm morning on the Flats.  No wind, just the lazy but ever present ocean swell.  I decide to open on the beach.  Drug Beach.  Drug Beach got its name because it is between Grass Island and Kokinhenik or Koke, for short.  Hence, Drug Beach.   It was slack water, the right stage of the tide to make a beach set for it will be a while before breakers start to show.  I was in 7 feet of water and was hoping to catch a few kings.
            I had lots of room, meaning not too many boats were around.  This is not usually the case on the beach.  I was kind of excited to be here.  It isn’t very often I get to set on the beach.  Usually the weather is too bad or it’s too crowded or there are breakers.  Or all three.   
            The fishing period started off just like any other.  The clocked ticked 7 am and I threw my buoy over.  Slap!  It hit the water.  I throw the boat in reverse and start to set out my net.  It backs up almost in increments as it stops momentarily with each swell.  Moments later my net is out without any glitches.  “Easy money” I say to myself.  I’m in a good mood because it’s such a nice day.  I go inside and cut the engine.  “Ah, silence”.  I make a cup of coffee and check in on the radio.   Curly and Phil are near me, though I don’t see them.  Bill is still running and hasn’t set yet.  I could never stand that.  At 7 am I’d have to set my net no matter where I was.  But Bill has more patience than me.
            I’m sitting in my skipper’s chair with my foot propped up on my wall.  I’m enjoying my coffee while it’s still hot, chatting on the radio.  I’m happy.  Life is good.  I’m ready to relax a bit and have some breakfast.  I see a cork bob.  “Fish on!” I yell……… myself.  I smugly report on the radio to the group that I’m getting a few.  I see another cork move.   And another.  Its 7:07.  My net has only been out 7 minutes and I’m in ‘em! I say this in code on the radio.  Bill asks where I am as he is going to head this way for his first set.
 But wait a minute.  What is that I see?  My cork’s are not bobbing up and down, the tell tale sign of catching kings.   They are shimming back and forth, the tell tale sign of catching green eyes.  “Shit!” 
            I sit up straight and fire up the engine.  I slam down my hot coffee and hop into my raingear and burst out the door.  I start to pick up my net, just to make sure what I’m catching.  I get a red.  “Shew”.  And another.   I get my hopes up again.  Then one comes aboard.  Green eyes.  “Ugh” I say in disgust.  Then another.  And another.   I run back in and hop on the radio “Green eyes! Green eyes!  Green eyes!” on our channel so the other’s have a heads up.  I don’t wait for response, I don’t have time.  I rush back out on deck.  I throw the boat in reverse and start hauling in my net as fast as I can.  I have to get my net out of the water as quickly as possible before it gets full of these retched fish.  A school of these hell creatures can sink a net.  Bye bye thousands of dollars.  Plus loss fishing time.  Bye bye more thousands of dollars.
            I rev up the engine a bit while in reverse.  I also need to get the net as tight as possible on the reel so the whole thing will fit since I’m leaving the green eyes in there.  They are extremely difficult to pick out of the net when they are alive.  Besides, it takes too long to pick them out.  The longer my net is in the water, the more of these things I get.  I do try to pick out the occasional salmon tough.  Leaving them on the reel is poor quality control.  They get all mushy like hamburger.
            I get about two thirds of my net in and my reel is full.  “Shit!”  I have to pull the rest in by hand. 
That's all the time we have for today.  Tune in next week for the rest.
 I'm out.