National Fisherman


Last rodeo

Young fishermen are the last generation to work (and play) in Glacier Bay

By Melissa Wood

If you have to go to work at all, then you might as well go like this: When they load up for winter crabbing in Southeast Alaska, the crew of the Osprey brings along a surfboard, scuba gear, wetsuits, Frisbees, guns, clay pigeons, golf clubs, a disco ball, kegs from the Alaskan Brewing Co., barbecue and just about any kind of music you can think of so the songs don't get too repetitive when they're blasted from speakers on the deck for up to 20 hours a day.

"We all like to have fun, and we'd all probably rather be having fun than be on this boat," explains crewman Kyle Willingham, 26. "You just have to do the next best thing."

Each winter the 58-foot Osprey participates in a fishery that will be gone within its young crew's lifetimes. What Willingham calls a "last rodeo of sorts" takes place in the Glacier Bay proper waters of Glacier Bay National Park, which are closed to all but a few commercial fishing permit holders. This disappearing fishery is a combination of workplace and playground they pretty much have to themselves.

"As a result, the fishing is incredible up there," says Willingham. "That's why you go. There's no competition."

Commercial fishing existed in the park's inner waters until two environmental groups filed a 1991 lawsuit against the National Park Service. The lawsuit coincided with an effort by park management to kick out the 175 boats that had been catching more than a million pounds of crab, salmon and halibut each year (though massive cruise ships still convey about 400,000 tourists there annually). Resistance from Southeast fishermen sparked a debate resulting in legislation that shut down several areas immediately in 2000. To compensate for lost livelihoods, the legislation authorized a $31 million buyout to shut out fishermen.

Inside the Industry

The following was released by the Maine Department of Marine Resources on Jan. 22:

The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced an emergency regulation that will support the continued rebuilding effort in Maine’s scallop fishery. The rule, effective January 23, 2016, will close the Muscle Ridge Area near South Thomaston and the Western Penobscot Bay Area.

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Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which governs commercial and recreational fishing in the state, got a new boss in January. Charlie Melancon, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislator, was appointed to the job by the state’s new governor, John Bel Edwards.

Although much of his non-political work in the past has centered on the state’s sugar cane industry, Melancon said he is confident that other experience, including working closely with fishermen when in Congress, has prepared him well for this new challenge.

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