Roger Fitzgerald, 85, whose column In Search of the Simple Life, evoked smiles and chuckles from commercial fishermen from Seattle to the Bering Sea, died from heart failure in Queen Creek, Ariz., on July 7, 2023.
His columns in the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal and National Fisherman spanned 25 years of dramatic change in the Alaska fishing industry from wooden boats and iced fish to the modern factory trawlers competitive with the best fleets in the world.
With a mixture of humor and respect he covered a panoply of characters that included the Samuelsons and the Knutsens, who captained venerable halibut schooners dating back to the early 1920s and still in service, Sea Lion Murphy, a seinerman out of Cordova, the wonderful story-teller Jim Beaton, the Burns Brothers whose vessel Blue North might well be the most technically awesome longliner in the Pacific, and his son, Michael Fitzgerald, who became a top highline cod fisherman in his own right – just to name a few.
Fitzgerald’s first memory of landing a fish is recorded in the cookbook Off the Hook with recipes by Susan Volland: “It was in Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1944, casting feathered jigs off a dock for tinker mackerel with my mother…suddenly a strike, the fish vibrating through my hands and arms like electricity…And later, seeing it come out of the oven, two perfect fillets crisp and brown with lemon and butter. Or maybe my memory added the butter – we were on strict rations then…”
The delight in reading Fitzgerald’s columns is in the humorous leaps from one thought or paragraph to the next with unexpected somersaults and twists upon landing.
Fitzgerald was born Nov. 24, 1937 into a Navy family, the eldest of four boys. When his father returned from World War II, the family moved to Guantanamo, Cuba – a country and memories he returned to in his columns.
At the age of 17, Fitzgerald enlisted in the Navy and was posted to the USS Archerfish, which was famous for having sunk the Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano in November 1944 – the largest warship ever sunk by a submarine, according to Wikipedia.
From reading every chance he got on the submarine he went on to get B.A. and Master’s degrees in English, teaching positions at Vermont Academy and then Charles Wright Academy and a return to fishing one summer with his son out of a small boat in La Push, Wash.
After running a seine boat out of Cordova, Alaska, he helped start the trade publications, Alaska Fisherman’s Journal, Seafood Leader, and the recipe magazine, Simply Seafood, which took him from the Lofoten Islands to Thailand writing stories about catching, processing, and selling seafood.
As he wrote in one of his columns, “you could say our ‘office’ was anywhere in the North Pacific at any given time, from crabbing off the Aleutians, longlining cod in the Bering Sea or salmon trolling in Southeast wherever it was happening.”
Fitzgerald is survived by a son, Michael Fitzgerald and a daughter, Mary Fitzgerald, and six grandchildren and step-grandchildren.