Written by Jen Finn
Astoria's 17th annual FisherPoets Gathering explores the heart of fishing
By Sierra Golden
As Jane Kinegal tells it, she was 11 when she started working in her father's salmon cannery on the British Columbia coast. At the time, union rules required that all the women hand-packing the cans be at least 16 years of age, but as daughter of the plant manager, she had already been practicing that careful art for eight years. She wanted nothing more than to join the singing teenagers and wizened women on the production line. Now, decades later, sitting in the darkened hall of the Astoria Event Center, she imitates the poking and patting motion of putting salmon in a can and concludes her story by saying that she learned more from those women than pretty much anyone else in her life.
The inheritance of wisdom is an important theme every year at the FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore. Yet this year at the February gathering, when Kinegal and four other women from fisheries around the world sat on stage for the first all-female Story Circle in the gathering's 17-year history, they spoke with some desperation in their voices about losing tradition, dwindling fish stocks, disappearing towns and a fisherman's undying hope. In short, they wanted to know how to protect the industry and culture they love in a rapidly changing world. In truth, their very words and the FisherPoets Gathering as a whole are a step toward saving both the culture and industry of which they speak.
The FisherPoets Gathering is the 1998 brainchild of Astoria resident and longtime commercial salmon fisherman Jon Broderick, though he is quick to brush off the founder title saying, "I take credit only for making the first phone call because I never met anyone who didn't think it was a good idea." That call was to John van Amerongen, then editor of Alaska Fisherman's Journal, which published several fisheries-related poems in each issue of the magazine before the regional publication was folded into National Fisherman in 2006. Broderick explains, van Amerongen "had a sense of fisherpoetry before such a thing existed. I called him and asked if I could have the names for some of his poets... he gave me 40 addresses, and I wrote to all 40." Of the 40 invitees, 39 fisherpoets showed up to the inaugural gathering at the spacious and raucous Wet Dog Café. An unexpected 200 spectators contributed to the roar, and the FisherPoets Gathering was born.
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