Herring Finale, Horizontal Totem Pole, Folk Fest!

Another jam-packed blog post! So much excitement in spring ūüôā

Thursday April 7, I added to my “Once in a Lifetime” list when I hopped on board the F/V Julia Kae, courtesy of Captain Steve Demmert. I happen to have been good friends with Steve’s son, Michael, at Gonzaga and knew that they have family roots and a history of fishing in SE Alaska. About¬†a month ago,¬†while enjoying some springtime sun by Crescent Harbor, a man walked by¬†who looked pretty familiar. I jumped up and asked¬† him if¬†he was Steve and explained how we knew each other.¬†We chatted for a¬†bit catching up on¬†how we had both landed in Sitka, and then he offered me a front row view of the herring fishery in action! Though many of the herring openers are called by the Department of Alaska Fish and Game in the middle of the day, I told him that my co-workers and boss were excited about the herring fishery, and even if one was in the middle of the work day, I would try to play a little afternoon hooky!

The process of herring fishing had been explained to me several times, but seeing it first hand helped all the details come together. I joined Steve and his two-man crew at the dock a couple hours before the opener and we headed out of the harbor, following the parade of fishing boats all headed to the designated fishing grounds.  I was full of plenty of questions, as just about everything was new to me, and before we got started fishing I had the chance to chat with Steve and one of his crew members, learning all the details I could. The Julia Kae was tendering (collecting the fish caught by another boat, as opposed to setting the net and making the catch) and shortly before the opener began, Steve received a call from a fellow captain telling him their whereabouts and that they would likely need the assistance of a tender. We headed out to meet the boat, Pillar Bay (apparently a rather well-known and successful fishing boat here in Southeast as I later found out from friends), where they had set their net.

Pillar Bay, Setting Their Net

This type of fishing is called seining. I really won’t do well trying to explain the method, so click on the link if you want to learn the basics. We were fishing on the boundary of the designated area, almost completely out of the sheltered bay, feeling the swells hit from open water. My mom had reminded me to¬†focus on land on the horizon if I felt queasy, which I didn’t think would be necessary advice. However . . .¬† I may have used this tactic¬†a couple times ūüôā¬†We waited a few minutes for them to begin pulling in the net before coming alongside their boat, bow to stern, stern to bow, to help keep tension on the net so the fish didn’t swim out (I understand that pictures would be helpful at this point for the explanation. Unfortunately, not all of them are posted yet, but they will be soon! Perhaps I’ll put together a little photo essay later).

Once the net was tight between the two boats, each boat put a giant fish vacuum in the water to suck up all the fish from the net. Seriously, a fish vacuum! The fish then shoot through the tubes going up and across the deck of the boat where they are then stored below. It didn’t take long for the Julia Kae to fill up. Steve estimated that they had 70,000-75,000 pounds below deck. The fishing industry is particular about how tightly the fish can be packed below. If they are too tight, it’s possible to squeeze the eggs out of the fish–not so good when herring roe are the sought-after item! We headed back to town around 5p.m. (opener was called at 3:25p.m.), Steve radios the appropriate people and gets his name on the list from which he will later be called to drop off the catch at the processor. Until then, they wait back at the harbor, flushing the fish with sea water so they are clean and chilling them¬†to stay fresh. My apologies that this is not the most scientific or accurate way of explaining the herring fishery process, but it gives a glimpse! And, of course, a HUGE THANK YOU to Steve for a fabulous outing and incredibly unique experience!!

Another springtime happening that was supposed to occur was the raising of the centennial totem pole at the Sitka National Historical Park. Due to the potential government shutdown, they had to postpone the ceremony, despite many Tlingit elders and other visitors traveling to Sitka to participate in the events. The totem raising will now happen on May 15, but I wandered down to the park on Saturday April 9 anyway, just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything. The newly finished totem was completely prepared, sitting on dollies, ready to head out the door of Totem Hall where old totems are now preserved at the¬†Cultural Center.

Old totems at Totem Hall.
Totem HallOld Totems

 Images of new Centennial totem.

Beautiful Salmon Woman's Face
Eagle, Raven Haida Totem Representation

Clockwise from upper left: Salmon; woman’s face depicting Mother Earth; Eagle and Raven, two moieties of the Tlingit people; Representation of a Haida totem pole (note: the people of the Tlingit and Haida tribes make up most of the Native Alaskans in Southeast), within a Tlingit pole.

Finally, the last bit of excitement to report on is the Alaska Folk Festival that I attended in Juneau this past weekend. This is an event I have heard about since the beginning of my JV year since¬†it is typically the only, rather large, ¬†informal (not a¬†designated retreat) ¬†JV and FJV gathering of the year (it’s hard to get around in Alaska after all!). Each of the four Alaska communities were represented there this weekend, and we spent a fabulous time together listening to concerts, jam sessions, impromptu fiddle competitions . . . you name it and if it has¬†anything to do with folk music, it happened there this weekend! I’d heard stories of food, drink, and music flowing freely, and it turns out that the stories¬†were, in fact, all accurate. At times, it was actually difficult to find a place where you couldn’t hear music. If a person wants to¬†listen to folk music all day (yes, through the night) for six straight days, it is very possible to do so in Juneau¬†on this¬†weekend. Musicians (and there were plenty!) from all over Alaska, and a handful from outside of Alaska, performed at¬†Juneau’s Centennial Hall, but when their 15 minute¬†set was over, everyone headed to the bars or the houses designated as “Jam Spots” to continue their tunes. Political, religious, original, cliche . . . it was all there in the music! Braden and I spent a good portion of the weekend trying to keep up with the pace of the festival (I even talked him into a contra dance or two!), but we couldn’t compete with Ian and three of the other Juneau JVs who walked in from their night out at 8:30 Sunday morning. Unbelievable! They had closed the bar, started a jam session in the street, headed to a house to continue their music and dance pursuits, finished playing music at 6:45a.m. while watching the sunrise and headed to breakfast! Needless¬†to say, it’s quite an eventful weekend, full of fun, music, dancing, and . . . a bit of relaxing too!¬†

Enjoying a mimosa with Braden on the deck of The Hanger in downtown Juneau (with sun)!

Back to normal here for¬†now. Town is a bit calmer, but it’s not long until cruise ships and fishermen¬†float in for the summer season.¬† I¬†am looking forward to climbing Mt. Edgecumbe on May 7 with my friend Chris, Sitka Seafood Festival¬†in May,¬†and plenty of visitors coming to town in the next couple of months! YAY, winter is over!!

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