After ten years of working to attain her dream of running a salmon seiner in Kodiak, Alaska, Lillian Connor was ready to give up. She had already reconciled with defeat, and then the door opened. “Strangely, I was kind of mad when the owner offered me the boat,” says Connor. “I’d given up. I almost said, no. But then I thought, I have to try, even if I fail.”

Connor grew up near Homer, Alaska, but did not come from a fishing family. “I got my first job on a seiner the summer I turned 20,” she says. “I worked for Steve Roth. I was so bad at stacking corks they thought I would quit. But I finally got it.”

Still, no one expected her back. “My first three years seining in Larson’s Bay, no one in the fleet ever bothered to ask my name. They didn’t think I’d make it.” But apparently, they didn’t know Lillian Connor.

“That next year I knew I wanted to go back. I signed on to a little 38-foot ice boat, the Mariah. I hadn’t even met the guy. But I knew at that point that I wanted to be a Kodiak seine boat captain.” Connor broadened her skill set, learning fiberglass repair, hydraulics, mechanics, and more. “It was a long process,” she says. “I built nets for six years.”

In spite of all she learned, Connor found herself still on deck. “I started to give up on my dream,” she says.

But early in 2023, Connor agreed to a three-year deal to run the Cape Ninilchik with part of the proceeds going towards her down payment on the boat, a 48-footer that held 35,000 pounds of fish deckloaded. “The deal was, I’d run the boat, but I had to bring the net and the permit.”

Connor bought a net, leased a permit, rounded up a crew, and headed out with the rest of the fleet. “I knew it would be hard, but I told myself, I’m only going to have to do my first year one time.”

She set three goals for herself: (1) keep her crew injury free, (2) catch more than 250,000 pounds, and (3) repay her loan from the cannery for the net, fuel, and other expenses.

“I kept my crew through the season, and no one got hurt. We caught 410,000 pounds, which was great, although the price was so bad I could not pay off the loan. But the price is out of my control.”

There were some glitches, Connor reports. Her seine skiff wouldn’t start just hours before an opener. “I called William Roth,” she says. “He helped us get the air out of the injectors and we got it started three minutes before the opener. We made a 20,000-pound set.”

What Connor proved was that a young woman with enough determination, a bit of luck, and some help from her friends, can make her dreams come true. “We’re going to bring our A-game next year,” she says. “And hopefully do better.”

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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