Edwin Fuglvog is a commercial fisherman in Petersburg, Alaska, and the father of Arne Fuglvog.


Looking at all of this technology, it would seem that in the time that you have passed a lot of changes have taken place. Has the technology changed the way you fish?

When I first started with my dad all we had was a compass and a lead line for measuring how deep it was. We would have a long, stainless steel line with a heavy weight on it, with a little dab of butter on the weight, and we'd drop down to the bottom and when it reached the bottom, we'd pull it back again and there were marks on the line that would tell us that we were able to tell how deep it was. And then we would haul the weight up again, there would be maybe sand, which would indicate sandy bottom, that got attached to the butter or lard or whatever we happened to use. If there was nothing on there, that would indicate a rocky bottom.

And so in the late '40s we installed an electric philometer on the boat and this way we were able to measure the bottom continuously as we were moving along. This enabled us to set the gear on a more desirable bottom and depth, and then as time went along, we got a radar and eventually a Loran gear. Some surplus gear became available to us through the military.

We were using that for a number of years and that would put us on, say for example, out in the Gulf of Alaska, this would give us a position say, within 100 yards of where we happened to be. And this enabled us to get to the exact spot that we wanted to be. And then as time went along we went from Loran to GPS, and of course, this is even more accurate and it made it easy for everyone to get to the favorite fishing spots or fishing holes that they have developed over the years. It's fairly simple to operate. Anybody can get acquainted with the equipment and use it to their advantage. It works out quite well.

But prior to that, you had all these secret grounds and you didn't want to let anybody know where they were at and these were your best fishing spots. But then as time went along, with all this technology, it's no secret any longer. A person could hold a hand - held GPS in their pocket and if they get onto good fishing, they can get on their GPS and figure out their latitude and longitude and write it down for future reference. It made it a lot easier for everybody to get out there on the best grounds, which was fine. It makes it easier for a person starting out to do well right off the bat. It works to everybody's advantage.

A lot of the fisheries all over the world are not doing well. One of the recurring themes we've heard is that because of all of the technological advances, it's tipped the scale. The fish have fewer places to hide. There's also the notion that there are too many boats chasing too few fish. Do you think that's the case?

Oh, definitely. It has to be properly managed. You can have a huge fishing fleet but that fleet would be micro-managed. They would be fishing a few short days instead of a few months.

And when you have a huge fleet like that, it's going to be difficult for all of them to survive. And that's primarily why they have gone to limited entry in some of these fisheries so they can manage this fishery. For example, salmon fishing in the state of Alaska has been in effect for probably 25 years.

And it's worked out quite well. They've been able to manage the resource and get a handle on it. And they've kind of restricted the number of permits so you know how many units of gear you are going to have out there fishing.

And I think all of the fisheries are eventually going to have to come to this if they want to maintain or get control of the resource. We've seen how some of these fisheries have developed, prior to limiting the number of vessels that can participate. It hasn't been a very good situation. It's been hard to manage and hard for the fishermen to participate and it's caused a lot of problems.

Pacific halibut fishery is used as an example of something that's positive. But it's important for the people, who say that Alaska's resources are so abundant that they don't need management, to realize that the halibut fishery was once overfished.

Well, when they started the Halibut Commission (I believe this was started in the 20's), it was kind of a necessity that developed from overfishing in some areas. Between the United States and Canada they formed this International Halibut Commission, which manages the halibut resource both in British Colombia and in the state of Alaska. And at the time it was a 3-mile limit, so this included all the waters on the continental shelf where halibut are found. And fishing organizations in Canada - the vessel owners and the fishermen's unions - participated in the management of it.

The Halibut Commission would make recommendations as to the quota for the next year, based on surveys and fishermen's log books and things of that nature, and then the fishermen and the commission would meet once a year to discuss these proposals. And as a result of these meetings they were able to establish halibut quotas and opening dates and so on and it's worked out extremely well. And this same commission has been in business for over 70 years and the halibut fishery has been operating at a sustained level all these years.

The quotas will go up and down, for various reasons. Maybe there's poor survival of some of the young halibut some of the years and then there are good survival rates down the road a few years - they'll show up and then they'll increase the quota a little bit. But had not this halibut fishery been regulated, the stocks would probably have been depleted where you would no longer have a fishery. And because of the way it has been managed, we have these halibut fishing fleets that are operating successfully in all the ports all the way up and down the west coast.

And so I can only say good things about the way it is being managed and the fishermen have always been on the conservative side of management. If they feel that this quota might be kind of high for this year, based on what we've seen the last year or two, we're not getting all that great fishing, we may recommend setting a lower quota, just to kind of keep the money in the bank, until a further period down the road when we can afford to increase the quota a little bit. And it's worked out quite well.

The halibut commission isn't going to say, "You guys don't know what you're talking about; we're the scientists, we know how to manage this resource." But they recognize our input and the validity of it and so they give us a lot of credibility towards setting quotas and seasons, and we're actively involved in the management of it.

Would you say that the halibut fishery is an example of a poor fishery that can be turned around?

Provided the fishery hasn't been depleted to the point where there aren't any left. If we have a fishery that's on the verge of collapse, where the stocks are down so low that the fishing fleets can no longer be successful at what they're doing, then they are going to have to take a look at it and say, we have to do something. We are going to have to shut this fishery down, or reduce the quotas to a level where the quotas can rebuild. And this could take years and years. And they are going to have to move onto something else during this time, or otherwise, just get out of the fishery and sell their boats and do whatever they have to do.

There is an end to a resource. There's no unlimited supply of fish. You keep nibbling away at it, eventually you're going to get 'em all, or almost all of them. So you've got to be very careful.

Do you think fishing has a future here in Petersburg?

I remember 50 years ago when I was fishing with my dad, one of the crew members told me, this fishing business, I don't think you should go into it; it doesn't look very good. And it was kind of slow fishing there for awhile and I thought it might not be a bad idea to go off to school and get an education as a backup but I think there will always be a fishery if we continue to manage it the way we have been managing it and not let it get away from us.

We had quite a few years of good crab fishing in this area. And stocks are fairly low right now and so the effort on them has been reduced considerably due to very low quotas that they've set for some of these crab species. And it's going to take quite a while for these crab to return to historical levels, which were fairly high a number of years ago. They may not return in my lifetime, but someday they will.

Do you see with your son, or with other fishermen, a new breed of fishermen that has developed, that is aware that there are limits like those you've just stated?

Well, a lot of the younger fishermen that we have in our fleet today started in the fishery at the time they started limiting the number of participants that could partake in the fishery, for example the salmon fishery. So many of them have already bought into the fishery and have paid a price to get into it, compared to those of, say my age, who have received the permits because of our participation. And so they are already schooled in what it takes to get into the fishery. You can't just walk into Petersburg and go and get a fishing permit and go out and fish for halibut or salmon without paying a price.

And so, those that want to get into the fishery are those that are very serious about it. Start out as a crewmember and work for many years and they really have to start saving their money. And so that when the time comes when they want to get into the fishery, they can go to the bank, they have a little bit of collateral or something that they can use to finance loans for buying permits and boats. Young fellas are doing this all of the time. And it's working. And they're making it big. It's a way of life. This is the way it's done nowadays, and they understand that. And it's working out.

A lot of individuals, such as myself, we're in the twilight of our fishing career and so we're going to have to sell our permits or hand them down to the next generation, or however it works out, and phase ourselves out. But the new wave, as you say, they understand what it takes to get into the fishery. And there hasn't been any huge protest about that at all. It's accepted. And it's working.

Can you offer any words of wisdom for the newcomers to the fishing field?

If you're seriously considering making fishing your career I think you have to try and get involved in as many fisheries as you can as a crewmember and get the experience. And start saving your money and mapping out a path that you want to take. And set some goals for yourself. Work towards that. You just work hard at it and you'll make it. That's my advice for someone who wants to get into it.

It must have been simpler back when you got started. Given the way the situation is now, would you do it over again?

If I knew then what I know now, of course I would. When I started fifty years ago, if it led to where I am at now, yeah, I'd do it again.

What was the hardest part of making a living the way you've made a living?

I suppose the difficult parts would be the concern you have for your crewmembers and your vessel and when you get into predicaments such as bad weather and you have to think about what the consequences could be if you were to use reckless judgment or make foolish decisions, or bad decisions.

The painful part of the fishery is to see what happens to people that get into a predicament that they are not prepared to get into, which is kind of the sad part of the fishery, because when we were going through this derby fishery here a few years back, we were losing boats and we were losing people in the fishery. This was really a sad, sad situation. I think that is hard to take.

And it is not only of the fishery that we have been involved in, but it's fishery all up and down the coast, from Mexico up to the Bering Sea. It can be grueling; it can be dangerous. It's very risky. So you have to use good judgment and try to make good decisions, which are not going to put anybody in jeopardy. I think this is uppermost in my mind when I am involved in fishing, in running a boat.

Did IFQs eliminate the derby aspect of things and improve the state of things in the fishery?

I believe it has improved the fishery. It's made a number of differences as far as I'm concerned. One primarily, is the safety aspect of it. It has virtually eliminated the loss of life and the loss of boats. Because now fishermen can make an intelligent decision as to when they should go out. If they get a bad weather report, if there are storm warnings or gale warnings, they are not going to go fishing, whereas in the derby days, you just about had to go and you put everybody in their vessels at risk, particularly the smaller vessels.

And you know, for the consumer it's a better product. They get fresh fish over a longer period of time, which is something they hadn't been able to get in the past. And I think behind the ruling is the fact that the consumer is the one that is going to benefit and this was very influential when they made the final decision to go ahead with IFQs.