About a year and a half ago I attended an event in Portland where Maine skipper and author Linda Greenlaw gave a presentation promoting her latest cookbook. Afterward, when she was taking questions from the audience, she got the (probably inevitable), “What’s it like to be a woman fisherman?” question.
I can’t remember her exact response, but she wasn’t a fan of the question. I don't blame her. I’m sure she’s heard it many times during a career of many accomplishments.
It's also true there are more immediate challenges when you’re out fishing — like hard work, know-how and an ability to get along well with others in close quarters. But fishing is still very much a male-dominated industry and so it’s hard to believe there are no issues with being a woman in it.
That’s why I think it’ll be interesting to hear what the panelists will have to say in a discussion about Women in Fisheries. The event, which will be hosted by the Sitka Maritime Historical Society on Feb. 7 at 6 p.m., is free to the public.
“As the new (and first female) director of SMHS, I am especially excited to provide a platform for a few of our women fishermen to share their stories,” wrote Ashia Lane, executive director of Sitka Maritime Heritage Society, in an email about the event.
“Our discussion panel will allow the panelists to talk about their personal experiences in the fisheries, with emphasis on the ‘female’ part. We hope to guide the conversation towards addressing specific challenges and accomplishments that are uniquely female in a male-dominated field.”
The crew of panelists have impressive at-sea resumes (information provided by Lane):
- *Tele Aadsen began fishing at age 7 and currently co-runs the F/V Nerka. She is writing a memoir and has the blog Hooked.
- *Longtime advocate of fish resourcers Linda Behnken is a Sitka fisherman, executive director of Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a National Fisherman highliner. Find out more about her here.
- *Linda Danner has been a fisherman for 37 years and runs her own boat, the F/V Amberjack.
- *Pat Kehoe has been a family fisherman for more than 30 years and raised her two daughters with her husband on their family boat. She is also a watercolor artist.
- *Lifelong Alaskan Marie Laws fished with her late husband during the 1970s and 80s out of Sitka. She is an accomplished artist and weaver, and has been linked to the ocean throughout her life, including a USCG-recognized rescue mission when she was 13-years-old. More on that here.
- *Coral Pendell co-owns and operates the F/V Morgan with her sister. She is the daughter of Pat Kehoe, and was raised on a commercial fishing vessel based out of Sitka.
You can also meet a member of the newest generation of women in fisheries in the pages of National Fisherman's March issue. Writer Sierra Golden tells the story of 29-year-old Hollis Jennings’ journey from being a VW mechanic in Kentucky to skipper of the 57-foot Natalie Gail from which she seines for salmon in Southeast.
Like Greenlaw, Jennings doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on her minority status as a woman skipper in Southeast, but her pragmatic attitude of learning her way through problems and paying attention to advice from fleet elders seems like one we can all take something away from.
Jennings talks about being part of an all-woman deck crew, which she worked on before getting her own boat. She said she was nervous about it at first, but the crew turned out to the best team she has ever worked with:
“You don’t need guys when you have hydraulics,” she said.
Check out our calendar listing for more information about SMHS’ Women in the Fisheries event.