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Member Spotlight: The Bursch Family

This month we’re delighted to feature the Bursch family of Homer in our member spotlight. Cate Bursch and her family have been commercial fishing in Alaska since the early 1980’s. They are longtime supporters of AMCC’s work. Cate recently took some time to talk with us about her family’s ocean-dependent livelihood. 

What kind of fishing do you do and where?

Presently our family drifts and setnets in Bristol Bay.

How long have you been commercial fishing? What drew you to this work?

My husband Tom and I have been fishing since 1983 or so. Our daughters Frances and Maggie pretty much since they were born in the early 1990’s.

I think what drew Tom and I to commercial fishing in Alaska was that it matched our sense of adventure, love of the outdoors, and work ethic. It also provided pretty attractive financial opportunity. We got into the business during some good years.

What would most seafood consumers be surprised to learn about your life as a small-boat fisherman?

They might be surprised that we really do care about what their salmon tastes like when they sit down to dinner. It’s important to us that they love it. We can get behind it because it is healthy, sustainable, and tasty.

What do you especially love about your fishing livelihood?

Well, I think many fishermen would agree that they have a love/hate relationship with their fishing livelihood. Seems like commercial fishing is experiencing a romantic period right now…but there are extremes on both sides of the spectrum. That said, these things keep bringing me back:

  1. The freedom of being your own boss.

  2. The excitement/risk of never knowing how your season/income will turn out.

  3. Using your accumulated knowledge of the bay, tides, weather and salmon behavior to try to guess how to fish that day.

  4. The tradition and the friendships developed over many years.

  5. The simplicity and focus of the fishing season. All the distractions of everyday life in town falls away and it’s all about one thing for two months.

What’s happening in the small-boat fishing world that is exciting or encouraging?

Nine years ago I traveled to a tributary of the Amazon in a remote and hot part of Bolivia. The fishermen used dugout logs to fish out of, yet this small village had a fisherman’s co-op and an ice machine. It’s encouraging that ice is starting to reach the corners of Bristol Bay now.

What part of AMCC’s work resonates most with you?

Keeping salmon around is all about protecting their habitat. The difficult thing is that Alaskan salmon need huge watersheds, large lakes, broad estuaries, and a lot of the Pacific and Bering Seas to be relatively pristine to thrive. AMCC is helping with the huge and sacrificial task of trying to keep these systems healthy.

Where in Alaska would you like to visit or spend more time?

The problem with being a fisherman is you spend every summer in the same place! The place in Alaska I would most like to visit is the setnet beaches of Yakatak. I’m very curious about that area.

Describe a moment or day that is one of your favorite memories of fishing.

A good hard day is behind you, the skiffs are tidy and secure on anchor. Your crew are all safe onshore and sitting around a large table telling stories of the day. You pull pans of fragrant sockeye salmon fillets out of the oven, put it on the table and watch it disappear into appreciative and eager bodies!

What is your hope for the future of fishing in Alaska? 

That we can keep these salmon habitats healthy. That will not only ensure we will be able to continue to pull a healthy resource from the ocean, but by protecting what the salmon need, we will also be protecting the air, water and land that our own offspring need.

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