Robert Goes To Alaska - 2017
Signals of spring are all around us…in San Diego, there are blooming yellow brittlebush flowers along the highways and purple Jacaranda trees. There’s the return of the marine layer, Padres games and 8pm sunsets. And thankfully, there’s getting done with work and still having some light left to play.
For me, as some of you know, there is also a change of season. It's the time when I begin to round up my wool socks and other can't-live-without items for life aboard a fishing vessel for the few weeks of June and July.
This will be my 8th season returning to Bristol Bay, Alaska where I work as the First Mate aboard the commercial fishing vessel F/V Erin L. Many of you are aware of my seasonal migration, but for those who aren't, I wanted to share some information about my "other job." Since I've received wide-ranging curiosities from many of you, I would like to answer the most common ones: explaining the fishery I work in, how it's managed, how we fish, and why I love it!
First of all, I am thrilled to say we are a sustainable fishery that takes pride in highly competent management by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The daily schedule of our fishing activities is dictated by science. There are biologist teams up-river who count the number of fish swimming by their towers, as well as helicopters that survey the lakes for fish counts. These teams give a daily "escapement" number. The higher the number, the more we are allowed to fish, the lower the number the less. Every day we eagerly await the radio announcement for the current escapement numbers and the next days fishing openings...always a moment of suspense! The openings range from 4 hours to 20+ hours. There is a minimum escapement target that the rivers must (and do!) achieve every year, and all fisherman respect this. Achieving escapement targets ensures we will still have fish to catch in future years and is the crux of Bristol Bay's sustainability.
The fishery is highly regulated with strict GPS boundaries patrolled at all opening hours by helicopters, airplanes, speedboats, and even undercover fishing boats! The fines for fishing out of bounds are very heavy... they are in the thousands of dollars as well as revocation of a captain’s permit. We are typically in close proximity to other boats and when the fishing is good, it can be a battle for territory...That's when it gets really exciting!
The conditions are typically fair, see photo at right….. …… just kidding! Just making sure you’re paying attention!
So, what are our boats like and how do we catch fish? Our boats are a regulation 32 feet in length with our captain and 3 crewman (myself included). We strictly use a technique called Gillnetting, which refers to the way our net is used to catch fish. Essentially, we have a giant rectangle of diamond-mesh net measuring 12 feet in depth and 1,000 feet in length. The top line floats with corks, and the bottom part sinks with lead-filled line, so it forms a floating rectangular wall that the salmon swim into on their way up-river (see below). When we set our net, the boat drives forward and leaves a trail of net behind. When we are ready to pull in, we use a 6-foot diameter hydraulic reel, and in certain situations, we pull it in by hand. Due to the shallow, muddy and structure-less bathymetry of Bristol Bay, we have very little (less than 0.1%) by-catch as it's not a desirable habitat for anything other than commuting salmon.
Now on to the best part...why I love it! The first words that come to mind are adventure, nature, teamwork and simplicity. Every day is an adventure and our daily life is spontaneous, always driven by the tides, the winds, fish reports and necessary boat repairs. Whenever we think it's getting routine, without fail, we are thrown a curve ball. When we are out, our existence is bound to nature. We wake up to it, work in it, sleep in it and co-exist with it. We are in rhythm with a most powerful energy source, and this relationship has a resounding effect on my connection to nature. On such a small boat, the 4 of us work very closely together. The crew dynamic is critical to success and happiness. Any dangerous or difficult experience is felt by all, and at season's end, we are always galvanized and bonded by them. And lastly, when we are out fishing, we truly get to simplify our lives. We can receive texts, spotty calls and mail by post, but for the most part, it is our work, our crew, our radio group, and the ocean. It is a very simple and hands-on life we live while at sea, and it counterbalances the modern world very well. Every season, I remind myself how grateful I am to experience such a rich lifestyle!
For the most part, my work with Blue Summit and my work in Bristol Bay are quite separate. However, you might be interested to know that one of our Mutual Fund Managers, Trillium, has been instrumental in organizing stakeholders to prevent the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. This project poses a huge ecological threat to our fishery (which is the most abundant Sockeye run in the world!) due to chemical intrusion into the salmon's natal rivers. Trillium organized with grocery stores, native groups, and fisherman alliances to prevent development of the Pebble Mine.
Here's a photo of Susan Baker (Trillium's VP of Shareholder Advocacy) and I at the 2016 SRI Conference. I have immense gratitude for her, Trillium and other SRI Managers fighting for social and environmental justice all over the world!
When I joined Blue Summit in 2014, I was surprised to find out how closely I was being touched by shareholder activism! Given that Resolutions are being filed concerning everything from Executive Compensation, Climate Change, Consumer Packaging, Factory Farming, Nanomaterials and GMO’s,, it is likely that you too are being touched. Here is a link summarizing some recent shareholder initiatives spearheaded by our industry partner As You Sow. With regular annual donations, Blue Summit supports the work of As You Sow. You are supporting this work through your investments in our Blue Summit SRI portfolios as our mutual fund managers are also active in this branch of Impact Investing!
I hope you've enjoyed this short summary about my fishing job. I’ve included a few photos of myself on board, see below. If anyone has any specific questions about my work in Alaska, feel free to ask...I would love to share! I look forward to seeing and talking with everybody again after I return in August!
All the best,
Robert G. Seid
Partner, Wealth Advisor