The fishery belongs to her also

I spent most of the past winter feeling disappointed.

The election of Donald Trump was jarring and left me feeling devastated about the current state of this country. It’s not that the issues I worry about today weren’t present under the Obama administration or would disappear during a Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton presidency, but it is undeniably true that my main concerns felt more pressing and raw after Nov. 8, 2016.

A year before, Obama had just visited Bristol Bay, Alaska, as the first president to make the trip to the southwest bush villages, and gave the hopeful illusion that the possibility of Pebble Mine was dwindling fast. Our reality changed rapidly and continued to move quickly in the wrong direction after last year’s election. Inauguration Day came and went, and Trump’s administration acted swiftly to remove protections the EPA had laid out to preserve the culture and habitat of Bristol Bay. This was disappointing, to say the least.

Bristol Bay has been my home for the last seven summers and is near and dear to me. Vying to destroy the watershed gets personal fast, but this is not the only tenet of Trump’s presidency that is personally disappointing. This person, whose words vilifying women were made known before he won the election, is now among the most powerful — at least politically — in the world.

When faced with disappointment, however, I believe in effecting change when one can muster the energy and inspiration. On Nov. 14, just a week after election day, I turned to one of my own communities — commercial fishing — and launched a project called The Strength of the Tides is Hers Also and wrote a pledge commanding a respectful and honorable space for women within the industry. Change is real, and change begins in our own communities at a local level. I want and need to make sure that my own people know abusive language or acts against women is not, never has been and never will be OK. I want the women in this community to know their crew, employers and employees have considered these issues and have signed on to hold each other accountable to make sure that the aforementioned is true.

After Trump’s election, there has been plenty to be unsure about. I do not want to be unsure about the role of women in Bristol Bay, and I don’t want any of my peers to be unsure about it either.


“After Trump’s election, there has been plenty to be unsure about. I do not want to be unsure about the role of women in Bristol Bay, and I don’t want any of my peers to be unsure about it either.”


More and more women are joining the commercial fishing fleet, and we need to set a high bar of respect for them. The standard put forth in the pledge is high, but it is not out of reach for any captain or vessel, processor or beach gang. This is why I’m asking every captain, crew, processor, tenderman, biologist and fisheries stakeholder to care. I want to make sure the women already kicking ass on the fishing grounds and those looking to get involved know their community has voiced a commitment to welcoming us, making room for us, respecting us.

The pledge thanks those who have already committed to respecting women in the industry, which is many, but I still find it important to say it out loud, to tell each other, to hear each other. Women hold 40 percent of Bristol Bay permits, but are not represented in key organizations like the Alaska Board of Fisheries or the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Despite the many positive experiences women are having in Bristol Bay, this lack of representation is itself a problem.

This problem of representation, however, pales in comparison to the disrespect from side comments that wear us down over the course of the summer to the cases of abuse and assault that occur on the fishing grounds. I know too many (any is too many) women who have experienced assault and sexual violence. The pledge demands an end to any form of violence, a commitment to fair and equal pay, and support of women in the fishery. This means hiring women, teaching women to drive skiff, listening to women’s needs. Most of the men I’ve worked with have become mentors and taught me how to believe in myself, to trust myself on the fishing grounds. Some of them have been my loves and best friends, but none of them are immune to mistakes of disrespect, mistrust or confusion about the woman’s role on the crew.

These little things can wear us down, and if you could avoid wearing down your crew, or your fleet, wouldn’t you?
Tell your captain or crew or beach gang to take their discriminatory comments elsewhere. Tell your fishing community that there is room for us women here, that Trump’s words are not part of our culture. Ask your daughter, sister, wife, mother what she needs to perform her best. Then tell her you want her on the boat, that she will not be harassed on your boat, that she is strong as well as beautiful, that the strength of the tides is hers also.

Sign the pledge today.

About the author

Elma Burnham

Elma Burnham is a writer and Bristol Bay setnetter. She launched Strength of the Tides in fall 2016 from her home in Bellingham, Wash.

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