Written by Jen Finn
September 4, 2012
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.
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