First dubbed the “salmon girl” at the age of 16, Jacqui Shaffer’s path to commercial fishing began with a large wooden sign advertising Desire Fish Co.’s coho salmon for sale at Squalicum Harbor in her hometown of Bellingham, Wash. Not knowing yet that she would spend many summers catching fish herself, one of Jacqui’s first jobs was spending a few mornings a week on a busy Bellingham sidewalk waving this sign, encouraging folks to buy fresh silver salmon off the docks, easily recognized to many Whatcom County locals.

A few years later, at age 19, Shaffer took a job at Red Salmon Cannery in Naknek, Alaska, and has returned to the Last Frontier’s fishing grounds each summer since. Picking pinbones introduced her to the industry in a more in-depth way than waving a sign on the sidewalk, and she secured a job on a Bristol Bay gillnetter the following season, in 2011.

Gillnetting is where Shaffer fell in love with the work, and she fondly calls those back-deck seasons “huge years for me personally” when she realized she could “see herself doing this forever.” Sandwiched between gillnetting seasons was a 2012 Southeast tendering job from which she landed her second gillnetting job in Lynn Canal, out of Haines, aboard the F/V Rustler. This is the gear type she hopes to buy into one day.

“That summer [2014] was the first year that I really started thinking, I’m doing it,” she said. Learning was abundant for Shaffer that summer, and she expressed gratitude for “the freedom of responsibility” bestowed by her captain, that allowed her to believe in a fishing career.

Her hunger for learning not yet satiated, this young gillnetter has also longlined for blackcod and halibut, and in the past few years, looked toward seining. These exploratory years are all in order to soak up (and save up) as much as possible with hopes to invest in a gillnetter that will turn this “salmon girl” into a career fisherman.

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