TRANSCRIPT - Charlie Christiansen
Christiansen is a commercial fisherman in Petersburg, Alaska.
Could you speak about some of the changes that the industry has
gone through and some of your feelings about it?
Well, I'm one
of the people that have gone through all of those changes, starting
30 years ago. You used to fish long, long seasons and not for very
much fish, with lots of conservation, and we built seasons up to
where it was extremely good fishing. Went into derby style fishing
where it was really unsafe for people to participate in it. The
consumer was getting a bad deal.
I've seen limited
entry come in. I'm one of the people that weren't around during
the salmon limited-entry and crab limited-entry, so I've had to
purchase my permits to continue fishing. I've been around during
the IFQs change when some of the fortunate people that got awarded
And as I see
it, one of the things that changed the industry early on was the
advent of hydraulics power, where you haul things aboard. And during
that time was, "Oh my! This is going to be the death of the resource."
That it's way too efficient, that we're going to catch everything.
Management adjusted, industry adjusted and we are all better off
And then we
got into things like the limit on seine boats - the big influx of
great big sardine-type seiners from California, Oregon, Washington
that had fished their fisheries out and were looking for a new home.
And that was a protection type of thing to protect the resource
and the industry we had going at the time, so they imposed the 58-foot
on seine boats. And that was a big change in the industry.
And then came
along limited entry in salmon and that was a huge change. That was
a whole new management scheme. And we have gone through IFQ's now.
Every change that we've done has been a major turmoil in the industry.
And then we go through the change period, and then we go through
the adjustment period, and then we've always been better off for
is healthier, the resource is healthier, the market is better. We've
adjusted. And if we don't have these types of shake-ups in the industry,
we grow stagnant. And we may fall by the wayside like the east coast,
or some of the other fisheries where interest was just lost in it
because of complacency.
Could you speak to some of the technology, like the electronics?
GPS is another
thing. Basically, anybody can navigate a boat or a fishing boat.
Anybody that wanted could go fishing. And it puts a lot of people
on more equal footing as far as knowing where you are, when you're
going to get there. The individual part of fishing is still very
unique in its own way, in terms of the decisions you make when you
fish, but with the sonar and our radar anyone could fish.
And now in my
vessel we have communications with my company, our fish buyers,
home, at all times now, whereas before, that was not an option.
We can call around; get the best prices. Where before, you had your
company, you went there, you took what you got and went back fishing
again. So there has been major changes in the communication part
in the fishing industry that has brought out a lot of price changes
because you have the option to go somewhere else by calling ahead
or not catching as much fish right now because the price is low,
or you can catch more fish because the price is high or run it to
a different community.
The communication in the industry in the last 3 or 4 years has probably
been one of the bigger changes since IFQs. How has it helped you
keep in touch with your family?
We can be online
on the fishing boats now. We can check different things with the
Department of Fish and Game - what the analyses are, what the changes
they've done, the sex ratio difference in salmon, because that gives
you a good indication about what the strength of the run is.
I can stay in
touch with my wife and my family at home at all times for anything
important that comes up or just to chat. And my children who are
all in college and fish with me, they have email accounts. They
deal with their people in school and working on other projects with
the computers on board. So all these innovations that we have put
on these boats now have not only helped my fishing, but has made
life more convenient on here.
Could you speak a little bit about your family? It seems like they
are part of your crew.
part of my crew, my family. My children have been with me since
they have been old enough to be on the boat. And they have gone
along just to go, and then as they grew older, they moved into the
fishing part of it. They fish with me all summer, and then go to
college in the wintertime. They all are full-working members of
this boat and 3 of the 5 crewmembers are my children.
And I enjoy
having them with me. I love the old father adage - Do you know
where your children are? And I like to say yes, within 58 feet
of me. I can always find them and have a conversation with them.
They're a captive audience, as opposed to living in town where they
are always gone all the time. So I really enjoy this time that I
have with my children on the boat. I am sure they enjoy it too.
It's mutual. At times, it can get a little testy-having family on
the boat, and bad weather and poor fishing and long days. It gets
to the best of crewmembers, let alone family. We can have our times,
yes. But we do get over that.
I am sure they enjoy it too.
At times, it can get a little testy having family on the boat, and
bad weather and poor fishing and long days. It gets to the best
of crewmembers, let alone family. We can have our times, yes. But
we do get over that.
You were talking a little bit about what happened 5 or 7 years ago.
You lost a boat. What kind of impact does that have on your outlook
on life or fishing?
Well, of course
the first thing I wanted to do after spending that time in that
cold water and having a close call was to go home and hug my children.
And be happy that I was alive. It was very close. And after going
through that kind of situation where you think you are going to
lose your life in this industry, I have changed my philosophy quite
a bit about it. I don't have to catch all of the fish that are out
there. They have tails. They'll swim to me. If it's too rough, they'll
be there tomorrow.
try to fish no matter what. But a lot of that had to do with the
way fishing was. It used to be real high pressure, high fish regardless,
no matter what. And after this has happened, it made you reflect
and find out what is really important and what is important is having
a safe and happy crew and a safe vessel and living to fish again
tomorrow. And I am a very big proponent in survival suit safety.
Without them, we never would have made it. So what saved our lives
was having our equipment in good shape.
Is there a sense with your pals that even with the technological
equipment and the survival suits, fishing can be a dangerous occupation?
It is a very
dangerous occupation. For one of the facts is you have a lot of
weight and power and things flying around and moving all of the
time. You are on a small boat and the ocean is very big. And you
are isolated if something does happen. It does take awhile for people
to get there. It is dangerous. And safety can't be stressed enough.
And all the inroads we've made into vessel safety and boating safety
is always a good thing because it saves lives.
It sounds like your experience of losing your boat has changed your
attitude, but it also sounds like ITQs have created a saner approach
to fishing, at least in the halibut fishery.
has happened, and like I mentioned before, the adjustment period
is what we're doing now. We're learning, we're adjusting to this
type of fishery. And it has really helped the resource. I think
the resource is the big winner in the IFQ fishery.
And then the
second big winner is the consumer, even though some fishermen are
out of business. They didn't' get enough. They had to invest in
other things or get out of it completely. Some of the processors
have taken a big hit because they've worked on large volumes and
they took a big cut in that.
So the change
in it, as long as the resource is the one that wins, that there
will be a fishery there when I retire, and my children take this
over that they can fight for and maintain to keep going is what
it's really all about. It's not whether I am going to catch a lot
of fish tomorrow or in the next two years. It's what's going to
be there in 20, 30 years from now.
How about to the degree that it eliminated the derby open and so
That's the mindset
that I had when I sunk my boat was that derby style of fishing,
where you had to get there no matter what; there wasn't any extension
for bad weather, for breakdowns. In the derby style, you get it
or missed it. And being in debt, my production depending on paying
that debt, you're there.
And you take
risks that you shouldn't normally take because you've got 24 hours
or 48 or 36 or two 24-hour openings and you have to make the majority
of your livelihood in those couple days. And not only for myself,
but for five other guys that fish with me. Their livelihood depends
on it. And we have to be there.
And by having
IFQs and being able to make those decisions on when I want to fish
and how I want to fish and who I want to sell the fish to has eliminated
the disasters that were looming in the horizon during this derby
style of fishery. And even though the resource was managed well
even at a derby style of fishery, it was still suffering because
we were taking it all out at the same time of year. It wasn't spread
out. It was a lot of our concerns.
And all of the
fisheries resource, politics and resource meetings I've been to,
the outcome has always been very conservative to worry about what
we're doing to the resource and err on the side of the resource
of the fish, instead of err on the side of economics, because they
will be there to catch another time.
It seems that a lot of the fishermen we talked to are always talking
about resource coming first. How come there is such a difference
in attitude between fishermen in Alaska and fishermen in New England?
I think it's
got a lot to do with our history here, all the way from fish traps.
When the big companies owned the fish traps and the management,
they were fishing it out of existence. And when that changed to
this style of fishing, they did away with king's statehood, which
got rid of the fish traps and all the years that we conserve.
We had years
where 100,000 pounds would be a big season. That would be tremendous.
And we've been through all these years of rebuilding these streams
and rebuilding our runs and being very careful.
And now we've
come full circle where we've built such big runs that there's not
enough consumers to take care of the amount of salmon that we've
built these runs up to. And these are wild salmon. There's been
no help from man or hatcheries. They're on their own.
And by being
very careful about selection of how much fish we take out of different
areas, we've built these runs up to that. And unfortunately, they've
gotten so big, in some creeks that it's become a detriment-they've
run out of oxygen in their streams, and there's too much fish in
'em, but we have nowhere to sell 'em.
A lot of people would be dying for that problem down in the lower
one of my biggest gripes being in this industry in Alaska. The armchair
conservationists in the lower 48 that don't really have a clue about
how much time and effort we spend to have this resource and to keep
it around. And it gets to be political then when we get to have
closures, like in Glacier Bay and in other areas, where it has nothing
to do with resource management. It's all political.
And that, I
think, is one of our biggest fears in the future. It's not the health
of our stocks. I think we've done a good job. We are well on our
way to knowing what we have out there, how to maintain high yields.
My biggest worry
is the closure of special interest areas with no biological means
whatsoever. It's just all political because somebody wants to look
at something, or they don't want us there, or it's a user group
argument and it's not based on what should be caught and shouldn't
be caught. That's my biggest worry - they misinform public.
What is your favorite thing about fishing?
Well, it's the
independence; it's the freedom. I get to spend all summers with
my children on a boat. Being independent is probably the most important
thing. I don't have to commute, I don't have job inside. I get to
go all the places everybody would like to go. It's hard to explain
why. I was born and raised into it. And I don't really know any
other type of way to make a living. And it's not so much a job;
it's a way of life with me. And it's a way of life with my family.
Will your children carry on the tradition?
hopefully will. My daughter already has. I've already transferred
several permits, into my daughter's name. They are slowly taking
over other parts of the fisheries already, and I do fully intend
to retire some day, either on a small trawler with my wife and goof
around southeast Alaska. And let the children take over this business
because that's one of the main reasons why I do all this. It's a
way of life for them.
Do you have a sense that they plan on taking advantage of these
So far, they
have. They show a great interest in fishing. They'll go on with
life and meet people and do other things, but in the meantime I'm
sharing with them everything that I have and my knowledge in the
fishing business. It's something they'll always have, if everything
goes to pieces in their life somewhere, they can always come home
and go fishing - something that won't go bad.
Was your father a fisherman?
I am a second-generation
fisherman. My father came here from the Midwest during the dustbowl
and started fishing right away. And he fished with me up until and
during the beginning of the derby days, and that was getting on
his 50th year of fishing and decided this was too crazy for him
and got off. And now my children are the third generation of fishermen
coming up into this business.
I've made my
peace with my fears of the resource being managed politically instead
of biologically, since once it gets to the political realm we don't
have control over it. With management we have meetings, we have
public hearings, we visit, we call 'em up, we write letters.
When it gets
to the political arena, especially in the federal level, we don't
have any control over that. And unfortunately, they feel if they
throw money at us, we'll go away. Like in Glacial Bay, we're getting
paid to leave there. And that is what I see as could kill our industry