Robert's 2019 Alaska Season

As many of you know, I have been spending my summers in Bristol Bay since 2010 to work in the commercial sockeye salmon fishery. 

The 2019 season marked an exciting change for me…it was the first year captaining my own vessel! Although lacking in sleep, my experience this year was gratifying in entirely new ways than before. Read more below about what my 2019 season was like as a skipper, some of the reinvigorated environmental concerns for Bristol Bay, and what’s ahead.

I know your first burning question…what’s the boat’s name? It’s called the Mountaineer. See photo below. It proved to be a fantastic vessel that was the cornerstone of a very successful season.

This was a drastically different year than all before. As a skipper, all the decisions are upon you, and the safety and profitability of the operation are in your hands. There are many factors to be aware of, which is nerve-racking, but also extremely engaging! At any given time, you have to be aware of the boat’s engine vitals, the changing weather conditions, how fast the tide is pushing you out of the legal boundary, how close you are to hitting bottom, how your 1,000 foot net is being pushed and pulled by wind/tide, how you’ll bring it back in without fouling any hazards, what the other boat’s nets are doing, and how can I eat this soup without spilling it! Overall, I found the experience as skipper to be wonderful.

Every day I was inspired and driven to wake up, solve new problems, and engage with the changing flow of the day’s tides. As a team, we faced problems and overcame them, with much laughing and jokes to get us through. We made mistakes but learned how to communicate and perform better day after day. We got saved by our fellow radio group fisherman (with call names like Quebec and Tango), and made a few saves ourselves

After many of our fishing periods were over, I relished the drive up river to deliver our catch, proud at having an existence that was grounded in nature and bound with a tight community.

As in all facets of life, when you have “skin in the game,” your perspective changes. This year, I felt that distinctly. Many of you might be aware of the Pebble Mine, a massive open-pit mine proposed at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. Under the Obama Administration, the prospect of the mine was slim. Investors were dropping out and the EPA enacted the Clean Water Act to protect the area, stating that the Pebble Mine would have “unacceptable and long-standing adverse effects” on the water, fisheries and wildlife of Bristol Bay. The fisherman couldn’t agree more. With the onset of the Trump Administration and a 180 degree turn of EPA leadership, the prospects for the Pebble Mine have changed dramatically. On July 30th 2019, the EPA withdrew their power to veto the mine, essentially green-lighting it and leaving the final decision to the US Army Corps of Engineers. It’s no guessing what the USACE will be urged to do. 

Becoming a permit and vessel owner in Bristol Bay has married me to it’s ecosystem. A significant part of my life, and my 3 crew members, relies on the health and sustainability of the Bristol Bay environment. The disappointing pro-Pebble Mine news strikes a deeper chord in me now, and my urge to protect is more personal. I have every intention to deepen my engagement in the issue this year. Through the processor I fish for (Silver Bay Seafoods), I plan to learn more about where pressure will be most effective and apply it there. In the past, Trillium Asset Management, a mutual fund company that Blue Summit uses in our portfolios, successfully organized a group of stakeholders to push back against the mine. We hope their efforts can once again be directed at this revived threat. Believe me, I’ll be knocking on their door! Although my knowledge of the issue is small, my motivation is big and I can now come to the table as a truly committed stakeholder.

I’d like to express my gratitude for allowing our firm to advise your financial lives while concurrently honoring and protecting the environment via our investment choices. My sincere intent is that your life feels more congruous when you are investing inline with your values. We appreciate all of your ethics that place meaning on environmental and social health, and we aim to do them proud in our work and in our own lives.

I look forward to seeing and talking with everyone again soon!