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Tele aboard the F/V Nerka with a King salmon.
Photo by Joel Brady-Power, 2008

Food Voices: The Interviews

Tele Aadsen, Fisherman
Sitka, Alaska

Tele first started fishing on her parents’ boat when she was 7 years old. For the past five years, she and her partner, Joel, have fished cooperatively on their 43-foot troller, F/V Nerka (the Latin name for sockeye salmon).

The way I came into fishing was through my family. It was a dream my Dad had to build a boat in the back yard. My folks were veterinarians up in Wasilla, Alaska. When I was a little kid, I had no concept of the ocean or the boat. In the summer of 1984, he finished it and launched it. They sold their vet practice to sail down to the South Pacific. Our first stop was Sitka, Alaska. It was mostly families fishing together. There were masses of kids running around on the dock. My parents thought, oh that is a fun way to make a living. We never made it to the South Pacific. Instead they built a real fishing boat.

The challenges we faced were the finances of fishing, just as farming. My Dad will talk about those summers as the best in his life, but he did not see it as a way to support his family. My Mom was pretty optimistic and disagreed. They split up and my Mom kept the boat. At that time there were not many female skippers. And I was her crew, so it was an all female boat. My Mom sunk everything she had into a 54-foot freezer troller. After a couple bad seasons, she had to sell the boat. That was the last time she fished. That is how my folks got started and how they got out of it.

Trollers are hook-and-line fishing boats. Fishing lines are towed behind or alongside the boat. Fishermen use a variety of lures and baits to "troll" for different fish at different depths. Trollers catch fish that follow a moving lure or bait. Fishermen can quickly release unwanted catch since lines are reeled in soon after a fish takes the bait.

There has been a tremendous amount of advocacy for the benefits of wild salmon. However, in the past couple years, people can’t afford it. Many buyers have significantly cut their orders. And that is a frightening thing. One of our biggest conflicts is we have this superior product and you weigh that against the price to go fishing. What price do you set your fish to be able to fish, but also have the price set so people can afford it? I look at ways where we can make enough and donate to meals programs and homeless kids, who would never otherwise have salmon. It is a small thing, but it is important.

My partner’s Dad markets our fish to co-ops and high end restaurants under the brand  “Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon.” A lot of the restaurants only take one or two fish a week. It is so much fun to walk those fish in and talk to the chef. We get to see what they will do and they get to see who first handled their fish. Part of the reward is dealing with the people buying the fish and recognizing the value. I would not want to give that up.

With salmon, fishermen have done a good job in getting active with policies and the allocation of the quota. As the west coast fishery is going through such decline, it is hard to believe the abundance of salmon up here. It is hard to explain the self-governance and monitoring that happens in Alaska to protect the stocks. There are individual fishing quotas for halibut and we had a choice between a house and a halibut permit. There is a bolt of terror that may come our way for salmon.

I feel more myself on the ocean than anywhere else. I feel at home on the ocean. I can’t wait to be out on the sea. Every spring I look forward to going home. How else can I get that same feeling of living seasonally, being connected to the environment? It is not just being out in a boat on the water. It is very much about the work. We put such intense demands on our bodies and our endurance all the while in the most stunning office imaginable. For as much as I don’t like killing for a living, I can’t give it up. I pretty much come down to I’ll fish as long as it is an option. And I am not convinced it will be there for the long haul.