Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fishing in the wake of the great Angoon seine boat captains

My first impression of Angoon was a good one but one that brought to light the post 1970's salmon deficit. Wally Swanson, Bob Thorstenson Sr., and myself flew in to look at a net for Wally's son Rob, who was beginning to seine then, in the spring of 1982. There had been a decade of no fish for seiners, over a decade, and the only boats and seine skippers who survived were lucky or good enough to diversify: geographically, like Ketchikan, Sitka or Craig districts; other fisheries, like longline or crab fishing, or early or late season herring or dive tendering or shrimping; or diversification that takes the place of your better half having a better job that you do.  A real job. Up until very recently Angoon had a few boats to take in some of the seine harvest.

In any event, the fleet took the huge hit from the impacts of the 1970's, not the least of which was the closure of the Chatham Cannery, where over half the population of Angoon worked in the summer. In those older days, those who weren't out seining with the Angoon seine fleet worked over at the Chatham Cannery at Sitkoh Bay. Dad left me movies and slides we've watched over the years when Linne and Dot Bardarson ran the Chatham Cannery in the 1960's. It was a very positive experience for the social as well as economic benefits and I've spoken with many Angoon residents or descendants who were there who recounted the experience as a very positive one.

Once the rest of the Chatham Straits canneries mostly shut down, the opportunity to work would have split the family up. After Kake closed for good in 1978, the only canneries that the wives, younger kids and older daughters could travel to work would be XIP at Excursion Inlet, or Sitka Sound Seafoods or Petersburg Fisheries.
This became uneconomical as well as impractical to split up families. For a time in the 1970's through the early 1990's Icicle Seafoods kept a buying station with ice and provisions for local trollers. But the connection to the Chatham Cannery hurt the industry connection, as well as limited the sockeye that were harvested for subsistence out of Sitkoh Creek. When the cannery working famies lived over there all summer it was an easier harvest. Unless there are low water conditions present, Sitkoh sockeye are not always available, making a trip from Angoon meaningless if it's a day the sockeyes are scattered or not schooled up.

So while the local canneries lost the local connection- as the Hood Bay Cannery had in earlier times- a handful of the local fishermen did not. These fishermen, with just a 5-6 man crew, would be a huge economic unit for Angoon. Besides the jobs these boats brought home cook fish from the large catches. In 1985, I fished for the same company as Peter Jack and we caught almost exactly the same amount of fish.  He was a little ahead of me with 562,000 lbs. And that year Dennis caught about the same and he was also fishing for Icicle. Now that's a little stake to take a few fish home from even though they were mostly pinks and chums. The 58 footers were also great for helping with subsistence if the weather was rotten, and of course, to get in a good deer hunt or two over in Peril Strait, Kelp, Hook or Chaik Bays.

There were yet fishermen like former SEAS members Ronald Johns- FV St Peter, Peter Jack-FV Jerilyn and Dennis Eames-FV Talia who highlined out of Angoon throughout the 1980's and 1990's and were many seasons the top -per capita- purse seine fleet in all of Southeast Alaska. In 1993 Dennis Eames was top boat in all of Southeast Alaska with 1.3 million pounds and was typically top boat in the northern districts all of his last 2 decades of seining through his last season in 2006. That is, typically top boat if he managed to beat the great Johnny Hinchman on any particular year. One of my favorite fishing spots, near Hoonah, was Johnny's and then Dennis's spot. But I found it in 1999 while Dennis and Johnny were out in Lisianski on a wild goose chase. So I get up the next morning and the Talia was anchored there. Because guys had been complaining to me that this spot was too close to their spot, I asked Dennis about it.   He told me that was his spot. Unless Johnny or Wayne got there, but usually Johnny went behind, at Beacon Pt.

I also recall one trip to Dall Island in 1986. Dennis was down there with the first Talia - the old Dean- and he and I weren't catching too well due to our smaller northend 3 1/4 strip nets. I was getting gillers in my chafing gear. I remember just like it was yesterday. He said " well,kid, we'll get back up to the northend one of these years and then we'll show 'em". We went into Cordova Bay with our little nets and did just fine. I fished Mellon Rock and then Eek Pt., where Dennis came over from where he'd been fishing in Hetta Inlet. Dennis was a longtime SEAS member and onetime board member as well.

I fished with Peter Jack many times at the hatchery, at Peril Strait, Neva Strait and Pt. Caution. One of our last years fishing nearby was in Neva Strait in 2001. He could hardly see with his eyes going bad due to his elderly age-- he must have been nearly 80-- but we were patient and waited turns with him all day. Peter Jack also was a SEAS member when he was younger and active as well as Mayor of Angoon when the Admiralty Island National Monument was created.  Peter Jack was also CEO and President of Kootznoowoo Corporation.

I met Ronald Johns the first time in 1989 in Craig at the fuel dock. The St Peter was getting a bit worse for wear. I almost stepped through the main deck. Must've had good pumps as they were fishing seagull bluff and little roller the next 2 days. Ronald was an incredibly wise man and he would tell me about his biggest sets in Lake Anna and Sisters Lake. He had a knowledge that should have been collected either in writings, interviews, tapes or some other medium.
All the old timers knew so many things that they accomplished or failed at long ago that could help us today.  They also knew of the cycles.

There have always been salmon cycles, up and down, since time immemorial. Of the 100% of salmon fry that emerge, we catch a minor single digit percentage of them. The other 95% get killed by predators: whales, seals, sea-lions, dolly varden, larger salmon, stream blockages like that at Kanalku ( Kanalku has had stream passage problems for sockeye as early as 1968, when the USFS began blasting out rock-- and as recently as 2011 when the state of Alaska funded a quarter million dollar USFS study as to how best proceed with a fish ladder or to enlarge the jumping pool below the falls)as well as Hasselborg Lake( which, blockage free, probably has more potential to produce sockeye than Kanalku), bad winters, deep freezes, drought conditions with low water levels, floods. There are more factors that contribute but this isn't meant to be a salmon essay.

Back to Angoon.
I spent some time in 1984, trying to buy shotgun shells in October. The community was nice to us and I really felt a kinship with the place. ( Remember my kindergarten birthday party was a hunting trip to a cabin closer to Kake than Petersburg) We were back in 1989, bootlegging on a late August 4 day opener. I'll never forget getting corked by Dennis Eames at Peninsular Point- across and north of Angoon- because I couldn't figure out which way the tide was going so I stalled a bit. So he corked me. I'd have done the same had I been in his shoes.

So I was in Angoon with Magnus, in 2009, the year my father died, listening to the dock stories(which insisted that he caught at least 500 unreported sockeye, which we won't repeat here) of the Senator Kookesh issue, but my son and I didn't go uptown because there'd been alot of Brown Bears in town that summer.
The best news about Senator Kookesh's issue was that we now knew that Kanalku was ready for fishing. Subsistence fishing. 2009 and 2010 have been the biggest known or counted Kanalku years ever. We would have likely had higher sub. limits in 2009 had we understood that the run was going to be a record.

Same thing happens seining. We have such a big year, unsuspecting to the ADFG, that we aren't allowed to fish accordingly. We miss a few days or a few weeks even.

An inseason adjustment to subsistence harvest from 15-20-25 would be alogical outcome of such a program. It may take a while to get used to and subsistence fishers would have to be connecting with the management authority

So are we saying Senator Al should have been able to fish. YES, in a more up to the moment management, we'd have seen that he had to catch more sockeye in order to not overescape Kanalku Lake.

Back to the Great Angoon Seiners.

I learned alot from these guys. Probably Dennis more than anyone else. But I remember one day I was down in Cholmondeley in 1987 and I sat around waiting for the dogs to come up. Well, Ronald Johns on the St Peter, he went out on the corner by Hump Island - but on the mainland west of Hump- and scratches up 1500 dogs in a day. Worth about $15,000. Back to school for bobbyt. I had enough for dinner and a six pack.

Anyways. I hope the next generation of seiners will show up in Angoon. There's lots of fish swimming by on odd cycles now. The state is doing a fantastic job of managing the fishery and Angoon should participate.  The Hydaburg fleet is growing with Sid Edenshaw having great seasons with Peter Jack's boat the Jerilyn.  Frank Wright of Hoonah had one of his better years of alltime in 2011. Some of the younger Kake guys are doing great-- Clarence Jackson's son Jeff is doing just fine and Henrich Jr. is spending more time running the Donna Jean as well.  A few years ago Delbert Kadake bought George Hamilton's boat the Janice and is doing well with that first class vessel.  And Nik Nelson is out in Chatham running Joe Demmert's old boat the Lovey Joann.


1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to Frank Sharp.

    Glad to see you're still out hunting. My father always had the kindest words for you and fond memories of his time with you.