It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens’ iconic opening lines could also sum up this country’s commercial fishing for any given year. A banner year for one fisherman could mean a horrible year for another.
2013 was the best of times for Alaska salmon fishermen. In recollecting the past year, they don’t have to search for reasons to be grateful. They had record-breaking catches in 2013. During the Pacific Marine Expo in November I met some coming off this season who were ready to make the most of their good fortune.
Jim Whitcher of Anacortes, Wash., had just bought a new boat for gillnetting on Bristol Bay. He closed a couple days before the Expo. Another fisherman, Ray Forsman, skipper of the Silver Isle, told me it was a normal year, which he said (and other fishermen will probably agree) is a “good thing.”
But Alaska’s salmon fishermen have known the worst of times too. I also caught up with Vicko Fiamengo of Belllingham, Wash., at the Expo. The longtime salmon fisherman was only 16 years old when he left his home of Komiza, a historic fishing village in Croatia, in 1970.
“I was born on a little island back in Croatia. I fished on the dock in the port when I was five years old, and I’ve been fishing since,” said Fiamengo.
So 20 years ago, when salmon prices dipped down to 35, 25 cents a pound he never left the fishery. He remembers going out when it was just “me and the fish and game [enforcement personnel]and one other guy.”
But it was not enough to get Fiamengo off the water. “I didn’t go to school. That’s in my blood,” he said. “That’s all I do. That’s all I know.”
Perhaps his story of perserverance will inspire those whose fisheries experienced the worst of times in 2013. It may not be the best of times, but sometimes normal is good enough.