Like many Alaskans, my childhood was marked by a fascination and unrelenting love of the water. Whether it was the feel of a coho striking my pixie lure in the Eyak River as a child, or the exhausting satisfaction of longlining for halibut with my father in my teens and twenties, Alaska’s waters played an integral role in developing my sense of self. But it wasn’t until 2013 when I started deckhanding for former AMCC board member, Pete Wedin, that my path as a fisherman-conservationist became clear.
After finishing a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Washington, I returned to Homer to find work that connected me to the community. Working as a charter deckhand for Pete was a departure from my commercial fishing upbringing—indeed, it was practically treachery.
But seeing the thrill and wonder on the faces of clients as they struggled to reel in their first fish confirmed that the act of harvest satisfies a basic human desire. We are meant to know our food, to understand its story, and ensure its ability to nourish our loved ones. I realized that my role as a commercial harvester and stakeholder in management policies needed to accomplish that feat as well.
The summers I have spent in rubber boots and rain gear did more than shape my shoulders and bank account—they honed my focus. Today, as we are confronting the jarring reality of climate change by witnessing dramatic changes in our oceans and rivers, I find myself called to share a message from the water: the tide has turned. Our ability to predict what’s coming has been muddled, and the tide rip we find ourselves in is full of obstacles.
Fortunately, in the six years I have served on AMCC’s board, I have witnessed the power that a dedicated group of passionate individuals can have in navigating challenges together. From affecting policy change in bycatch reductions to establishing the Fishing Fellows Program, AMCC has been at the forefront of efforts to protect the integrity of Alaska’s waters.
In my new position as AMCC’s Interim Executive Director, I find myself fiercely motivated to not only continue the organization’s robust mission, but to amplify it. I am eager to support the ideas Alaskans have for adapting with our changing climate, through diversifying their small businesses and identifying projects that support their communities and coastlines. I want for this time of transition and uncertainty to be characterized by fearlessness and celebration, hallmarks of Alaska’s hardworking fishermen. I want to double down on what motivates us all.
I look forward to the successes this year is sure to bring, and am thrilled to help shape the future of AMCC.
AMCC Interim Executive Director
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council finished up the meeting season in Sitka, following the tradition to hold the June meeting in an Alaskan coastal community. The beauty of the region and the warmth of the Sitka community provided a meeting venue for fisheries management discussions that was truly spectacular. This was the last meeting for outgoing Council members Theresa Peterson and Buck Laukitus and the Alaska Longline Fishermen Association hosted a seafood extravaganza, beachside, bonfire reception which was quite fitting for the Alaskan fishermen. AMCC would like to express special thanks to the many groups who contributed to the event: Alaska Longline Fishermen Association, Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, Sitka Seafood Producers Cooperative, Sitka Sounds Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Oceana, Halibut Coalition, Ocean Conservancy, Silver Bay Seafoods, Sitka Salmon Shares, Alaska’s Own and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
In addition to the kind words and a ‘Boots on Deck’ photo capturing Theresa’s advocacy for active fishermen and resilient Alaskan coastal communities, Theresa was honored to receive the Bobby Storrs award from the Unalaska Native Fishermen’s Association (UNFA). UNFA created the Bobby Storrs award to honor the memory of a friend who was the original Bering Sea small boat lifestyle fisherman’s advocate. The award is given once a year to those who have raised awareness of the value of the small boat lifestyle, are active in finding solutions to preserve a way of life and support the backbone of our coastal communities, the small boat fishermen.
The Council meeting covered a broad scope of issues which included Bering Sea/Aleutian Island crab management, Gulf of Alaska cod and pollock seasonal allocation adjustments, approved action module work plans for the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan and initiated an expanded discussion paper identifying mechanisms to develop an Access Pool for the halibut and sablefish fisheries that facilitates entry-level opportunity.
There are so many great causes to support on Giving Tuesday–we hope that AMCC is on your list!
Founded by the team in the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities in all 50 states and in countries around the world. This year, #GivingTuesday falls on November 27. This day is meant to inspire people to take collective action to improve their communities, give back in better, smarter ways to the charities and causes they believe in, and help create a better world. #GivingTuesday demonstrates how every act of generosity counts, and that they mean even more when we give together.
Thank you for your support!
Have you met Jamie O’Connor yet? AMCC is so happy to welcome her! She hit the ground running and is already in the swing of things.
Fishermen, pilots, and a noisy librarian raised Jamie in Dillingham, Alaska just north of the family set-net operation, where they’ve harvested salmon for six generations. She earned her B.A. of Journalism and Public Communication at the University of Alaska Anchorage, gathering diverse experience in corporate communications, independent film, and community theater projects. She then served Alaskans in Washington D.C., building Senator Dan Sullivan’s front office and internship program before running back to Bristol Bay with the sockeye. Jamie has since put down roots in Homer, where she participated in AMCC’s first class of Young Fishing Fellows. She joined the AMCC staff in October of 2018. She coordinates the Alaska Fisherman’s Network and supports our fisheries conservation projects. While fish consume the majority of her life, Jamie is also a certified yoga instructor, writer, and traveler. Her favorite thing in our wild world is to make connections — to nature, and to people. And she is excited to continue that work with AMCC.
Our flight banked beside the National Mall on approach as the sun set orange over Washington D.C. This was my first trip back since I left my job as a Senate staffer eighteen months before. To get my nerves ready to land, I jacked some nostalgic rock into my headphones. Some of the fishermen flying in with me had never made this landing; some, like me, had seen it many times. This time, however, I was a constituent representing my community, an Alaskan, and a fisherman. Much like before, my job on this trip was to connect Alaskans to their representatives in our nation’s capital. But now, I was also here to share my own story.
“My name is Jamie O’Connor and I’m a fifth-generation salmon fisherman from Bristol Bay,” I’d begin. “I was fortunate enough to grow up fishing with my parents and great-grandparents. Which gives me a special, long view on what happens when you manage your resource for sustainable harvest. In Bristol Bay, it’s resulted in the largest, most sustainable salmon fishery in the world.” I’d pause, waiting for that fact to sink in before continuing. “And we maintain those runs through strong, science-based fisheries management. So, I’m here to ask that we maintain that focus in the Capitol, fund the necessary science, and use it to ensure that my great-grandchildren, and the generations that follow them, may benefit from the fishing culture and livelihood that has given me so much. Someday it will be their turn to feed the world.”
I repeated that introduction thirteen times over two days with varying delivery to offices on and off the Hill. So did the eight other fishermen in our group. While each of our stories were a little different, each supported the science-based management policy we’d flown 4,000 miles to discuss and each connected to the staffer or Congress Member sitting across the table in its own way. Sharing your story is sometimes all you can to do to stand up for what you and your industry need, young fishermen. So don’t be afraid to trade out your slickers for a blazer once in a while. This work is equally important and we can’t keep fishing without it.
Jamie is a fifth-generation fisherman from Dillingham, Alaska.
Fishermen, pilots, and a noisy librarian raised her at the family set-net operation on Ekuk beach.
She graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a degree in journalism and public
communication. Then spent a year building Senator Dan Sullivan’s new front office and internship
program, before returning to Bristol Bay with the salmon run. And that’s where you’ll find her, each
summer for the rest of her life.
AMCC is thrilled to be partnering with five incredible host organizations across coastal Alaska for our 2018-2019 Fishing Fellows Program!
Check out our current list of fellowship projects here.
Consider applying for one yourself or share these opportunities with a young fisherman in your life.
The deadline to apply February 28, 2018!
Michelle Ridgway served on the Alaska Marine Conservation Council board of directors from 1995 to 2001. She brought tremendous integrity, energy, and warmth to our work and our family of coastal Alaskans committed to community-based conservation. Michelle gave generously to AMCC, to marine conservation overall, and to the people whose ways of life are closely intertwined with the ocean. Perhaps the most important beneficiaries of Michelle’s single-mindedness were the youth who were inspired by her zest for life and learning, the children who would need to be equipped to carry on the job of care-taking the ocean into the future. Michelle was a force of life. She was an ocean explorer, an invincible advocate, and a beautiful writer and speaker. She was happiest underwater in a wetsuit or piloting a research submarine, being part of the ocean. But she was also a fierce voice in the policy arena promoting sustainable fisheries, protecting clean water, and safeguarding living seafloor habitats. She used her marine ecology acumen to scrutinize decisions that most others at the table considered from narrower perspectives.
We are ever grateful to Michelle’s dedication to conservation
and the spirit that she brought to our collective efforts.
I was lucky to have served with Michelle on AMCC’s board in its early years. I was constantly in awe of her positive energy and enthusiasm for our work—and for everything that had to do with marine science and conservation. Michelle made things happen. One fond memory I have is from a board meeting in Sitka during the spring herring spawn. Michelle (of course) had friends with boats, and soon we were all on the water collecting and eating roe on spruce boughs. It was a celebratory time, a spontaneous outing, during which we could all appreciate the values of coastal Alaska we were working to protect. I’ve seen little of Michelle in recent years but continued to admire her deep commitment to and involvement in conducting science, communicating science, and—perhaps especially—working with young people to share her love for science, exploration, and the providing ocean.
— Nancy Lord
I had the honor of assisting Michelle at the Nuniaq Marine Science Camp in Old Harbor. We spent a week together, sleeping in a wall tent, leading children in a range of science activities which culminated in “deep sea exploration” with the launching of an ROV to view what lies beneath the ocean. Thanks to Kodiak’s Mark Blakeslee, who supplied the “Phantom HD2,” every child had the opportunity to operate the ROV. Michelle made us all scientists and near the end of camp all the children worked late into the night to catalog the species we encountered and the habitat where we found them. Not a moment was wasted — we were all scientists on a very important mission and Michelle did not let us forget that.
Michelle may not have lived a long life, but she lived life more fully than many who live to a ripe old age. She lived with zest, passion, commitment, and unflagging energy.
— Diana DeFazio
Michelle was an amazing marine biologist. Her favorite activities, other than exploring the world’s oceans and discovering their secrets, were sailing those oceans and teaching coastal children how to discover those secrets too.
… and needless to say, she was an awesome and true friend. She had done so much and survived so much, that I always thought I would see her again. Whenever we would depart each other’s company, for our “normal lives,” I would have this fleeting vision of us in our 70’s and 80’s laughing and looking back on all that we had done, filling in the details of adventures … no embellishments required.
— Bob Mikol
Michelle was an invaluable mentor to Kodiak’s small boat jig fleet during her tenure on the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. She listened to the fishermen and provided guidance to fleet members unfamiliar with the difficult Council process. Her support was heart felt and genuine and her enthusiasm was contagious. With Michelle’s encouragement those fishermen persistently attended every meeting and saw the action through to the end— successfully carving out a little of the federal Pacific cod fishery for the jig fleet, complete with room to grow.
— Theresa Peterson
Michelle was both fierce and fearless in defending Alaska’s marine life and life ways. I always thought of her as Alaska’s own ocean amazon. She inspired and challenged us all to do more.
I remember her telling me about some project samples she was working on, from around Kodiak, I think. She was totally focused and excited about the results when she casually mentioned she almost did not get the samples. When pressed she said it was at the end of the day when some sea lions showed up and decided to take a closer look. They kept coming up to her – curious or aggressive, maybe both. That’s when I realized she had been diving, near dark, among sea lions, in cold water – alone. Apparently this wasn’t remarkable enough for her to even mention. Absolutely fearless both in water and out.
— Nevette Bowen
Michelle came to AMCC right after the group was formed. She brought science credibility and a new wave of enthusiasm. What strikes me is how young we all were. When Michelle came on board were all in our early 30s working on some really big policy issues — ‘96 Magnuson Act reauthorization, ending wasteful by catch and discards, American Fisheries Act pollock rationalization, and others.
Michelle was a scientist, but she had passion and would take risks. I remember her at a Homer AMCC board meeting holding court for first time admirers. Everyone was instantly attracted to her. She was telling us all about her underwater dare-devil exploits. She played hockey with the boys and rode in a submarine. What more can I say. We were friends for life!
Michelle was savvy politically and new what it takes to get things done. She was a scientist with an edge. She must have felt like a lone wolf on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Panel on many issues — like calling out the importance of habitat protections for special areas. She was tireless in advocating for clean water in Southeast Alaska as she battled the cruise ship industry lobby.
I spoke to Michelle a couple weeks before she passed away. She was worried about the warming ocean and cod declines. She made a comment about us on the NPFMC being slow in response. And we talked about hockey.
— Buck Laukitis
Local Tanner crab vessels steamed out of Kodiak and Old Harbor on January 18th, with high hopes for a successful crab season. We always leave that way, full of hope. Why else would we keep going out?
The winter Tanner crab fishery is somewhat unique in that it was designed with input from the community-based fleet. Fishermen wanted managers to factor in safety, equity, and conservation into how the fishery operates.
One way managers do this is by using the weather to dictate openings. If the daily weather update for the fishing grounds includes a gale warning, managers delay the fishery for 24 hours. Doing so provides for greater safety and equity in the fishery, as it is dangerous for smaller vessels to travel in rough weather with crab gear on their decks. While it may be an uncomfortable ride for an 80-foot vessel carrying 20 heavy crab pots out to the grounds, it is rarely life threatening. However, for a 42-foot shallow draft seiner, like our boat, it is life threatening and we would have to stay in town. Thus, without the weather stand down, the fishery could be harvested with by a handful of larger boats while the rest of the fleet is tied to the docks. Working together, the fishermen came up with a solution. This year, the season was delayed for three days due to gale winds clocked at up to 106 knots.
The fishery was also designed with input by fishermen to have a minimal impact on Tanner crab stocks. Crab pots can only be hauled from 8:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night, thereby reducing the mortality of discarded crab—those that are undersized or female. Minimizing the number of times a pot is hauled and therefore how often crab are handled reduces stress on the resource. The daylight-only requirement limits the exposure of discarded crab to colder temperatures in the night. Vessels are also limited to 20 pots, depending on the total allowable catch of crab, which serves to both minimize the impact of the gear on the crab and level the playing field. When the allowable harvest goes up, so does the number of pots the fishermen can use. When the total allowable catch is under 2 million pounds, the limit is 20 pots; as that catch rises, the number of pots allowed stair-steps all the way to 60 pots (when the allowable catch is over 5 million pounds. This year the total allowable catch for the Kodiak Island district is 400,000 pounds, and after a four-year closure due to low crab abundance, fishermen are supportive of the limit and just happy to be fishing.
In a town like Kodiak, which is sustained by fishing, there are few opportunities to make a living other than commercial fishing. As community-based fishermen dependent on the health of the fisheries resource to make a living, many fishermen advocate in the fisheries policy arena in support of sustainable fisheries and opportunities for the next generation. We work hard to share both our experience and knowledge of the industry with management bodies like the Alaska Board of Fish and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Both of these bodies are set up to provide stakeholder input, and policy makers value the contribution of the fishermen to inform decisions. This process, coupled with the influence of strong science, has led to the world-class, sustainable fisheries that are found throughout Alaskan waters. I’m proud to call this state and Kodiak Island my home, and will continue to advocate for policies that sustain the stocks and provide other families the opportunity to make a living from the sea.