My day started at 6:45 this morning when a few of us got to go four miles down the river on a small boat and witness subsistence fishing firsthand.
Tad was the fisherman who showed us the ropes (literally). Besides a fisherman, he is a high school science teacher and a Pentecostal minister… talk about a variety of interests. Having multiple careers seems to be pretty common here, though. The mayor of Bethel is also a doctor, and Stan the subsistence fisherman who showed us his fish camp is also a barber.
Tad checked his nets, and patiently explained to us the different types of fish he caught. He even let me hook the line and I didn’t let go. So basically I am a professional fisher(wo)man now. Not really though, I would make a terrible fisherman… Fishing here requires early mornings that consist of freezing wind and water (I was freezing in like 20 layers and a hat and gloves). Also, upper body strength is also a requirement and I don’t have much of that.
He explained to us how the fishing restrictions put into place to save the King Salmon population require fishermen to lay down nets with four inch holes, rather than the usual six inch netting. The smaller netting makes it easy for King Salmon to avoid getting caught because they’re too big for the small net. That way fishermen can still catch smaller fish such as trout, silvers, reds, and whites.
A few of us were able to attend a forum in the Fish and Game building here in Bethel. The forum involved representatives from different fishing interest groups from all over Alaska. Commercial fishing and subsistence fishing representatives were present, in addition to tribal leaders from the upper, middle, and lower portions of the Kuskokwim River.
Many concerns were voiced by all regarding the unusually low number of fish being caught throughout the Kuskokwim River region. People were generally diplomatic and polite, but things did get heated. At one point a tribal leader said, “If things continue down this route, there will be bloodshed.”
Witnessing a fisherman check his nets, sitting in on the town meeting, and hearing the serious concerns of the locals made me realize the importance of fishing to this region. If the people, mainly those in remote villages, can’t catch enough fish in the warm months they have a hard time getting by in the winter months.
After all of that I got to shower today!! This is a huge deal because I was on day four of not being showered. I will never again take my shower in my apartment for granted… (I have showered a total of three times in two weeks, yikes).
The Catholic Church, where we’re staying, hosted a potluck today…or a “potlatch” as they call it here. I tried a variety of native food..including:
-herring eggs dipped in oil (basically just imagine eating small, tasteless, rubber bubbles)
-moose stew (which was probably the most amazing stew I’ve ever eaten)
-seal soup (…..tasted interesting…..basically fishy-tasting meat..)
-regular salmon (so good)
-salmon soup (yum)
-moose stir fry (interesting combination of flavors)
-fried bread (pretty much tasted like a funnel cake)
***Read this, Mom: I ate a veggie quinoa salad that wasn’t really a native recipe but Mom I had two helpings and it contained lima beans so I am proud of myself.
After cleaning up the potlatch dishes, us students went on a walk to the boardwalk. We’ve all been going on frequent walks every night after dinner in smaller groups, but tonight we all went together. This group is definitely something special. This adventure in Alaska would have been so much less incredible if we all didn’t get along so well. They make every day better, and getting to spend 15 days learning in such a beautiful place with such beautiful people is such a privilege.
Expect another blog post on Thursday!