Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Great Fisherman Throttles Back

When great Alaskans run into trouble, a lot of the time we take a wait and see attitude instead of being pro-active. In this case I'm talking about long-time Kodiak fisherman and community advocate, John Finley. (Some of the greatest fishermen, in my book anyway, haven't acquired the biggest boats. John is one these.) It was hard for him being a lone, or unaffiliated, advocate. If you want to keep at it, you have to be like a politician and get a paying gig and then hope you can get out what you really want to say in the midst of all the things you don't want to do. In the end, the lone wolf often ends up like Nikola Tesla, alone in a hotel room.

John recently got on Medicare and now is being taken care of in Anchorage at the Hickel House. John has given a lot of his own time to the State and I refuse to wait to write this testament to his life, until later. Besides that, for any Christians reading this, I want to remind that "the fervent, effective prayers of the righteous availeth much." John could use any help at this point in his life.

The 'Lindy II with 10,500 pound of Pacific cod aboard

His son Locke is fishing the boat these days for a scrap of halibut quota they have and what Pacific cod he can get. These guys are the ones I was able to find that could ship 'bled' and blast frozen halibut fillets to us here in Oregon. You just don't know halibut until you've had 'bled' halibut, and Locke is a fanatic about it. But it might be too late for them to exercise this passion as the halibut resource plunges deeper and deeper. I'm talking about numbers of fish here, of course. The cod? The jury is still out on them. Locke tried his hand at beach seining, but wild stocks are down: the focus is on ocean ranching in Alaska, since it's too hard to manage all the thousands of individual salmon streams, or so it seems.

Some of his notable accomplishments include authoring the plan to manage the Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska. (Even though others took credit for it.) And being the principal advocate for ending the joint ventures that had trawlers delivering cod ends to foreign factory ships after the '200 Mile Limit Law' went into effect. John felt these fish needed to all come to an Alaska community for processing and marketing.

When John first came to Alaska, he wanted to fish halibut, but that iconic cannery-man, Winn Brindel, told him, "we don't buy any halibut." Kodiak was enthralled with it's king crab at that time, earning it's reputation as 'The King Crab Capital of the World,' and it's abundance of wild salmon. Going way back, the Karluk River had sixteen canneries and a beach seine set could net 100,000 sockeye salmon. The very first commercial fishing regulation in Alaska was enacted here by the canneries themselves, providing for turns in setting the seines. There are only memories of commercial fishing the Karluk now and the king crab are all gone. But when John first landed in town, he got a crew chance on the 'Pacific Lady,' owned and operated by that iconic pioneer king crab fisherman, Ole Harder.

John always lived life to the fullest and it wasn't long before he was setting crab pots from his own boat and seining for salmon. He was the first fisherman in Kodiak who gave a woman a chance as a crewmember. I think John was tempered greatly by his mother who was a Registered Nurse and his upbringing in that wide open country called Montana. In fact, he thinks he was the first organic farmer there, starting his first ranch/farm at the ripe old age of nineteen. After some travel that included Europe and Mexico, and trying to start a health resort, the whole wide open North Pacific was urgently calling.

I think John was always outspoken, so it was natural that he started writing letters to the editor of the Kodiak Daily Mirror. He had good friends in many quarters and many didn't like the power politics of the few. He led efforts to stop the privatization of the fish resources. He ran for the State Legislature, without a campaign, and nearly won. Back then, privatization wasn't an accepted fact like it is now. The losers in privatization always go away, never to be heard from again. It works out real nifty for the winners that way.

He had a following of his letters up and down the West Coast, but he was hitting too close to home for some. So in the summer of 2008, someone just bought the Kodiak Daily Mirror and declined to publish any more letters to the editor about fishing. In one of the largest fishing ports in the U.S.! It wasn't like John didn't try work within other groups trying to create more opportunities for the regular family fisherman and get more product into the local communities. It's just that most of the time someone would co-opt the organization for their own gain and throw everyone else under the bus.

Limited Entry has always been the blueprint for success in privatization, albeit not nearly as 'private' a privilege as quota shares. When John took a delegation down to Juneau to oppose it, which was watched state-wide, some of his compatriots just took a permit and flew home, leaving the delegation much reduced. The back-story of the privatization of the Alaska fisheries is the epitome of the saying, 'the devil is in the details.' Maybe if it was more widely known that this wasn't exactly a democratic process, privatization wouldn't be so popular. But then one look at Congress and it's pretty obvious, about democracy, that is.

So, like Nicola Tesla, John met his Thomas Edison in the form of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council 'family.' That extended organization with roots in the boardrooms of Seattle. But John ultimately bought a Hanson built wood troller/longliner for fishing halibut and P. cod. He was forced back into the three-mile line around Kodiak by regulations for his cod, and his halibut quota has shrunk and shrunk down to a fraction of what he figured was an OK amount for him and his son.

Well, he left for Anchorage this week and the fight of his life, with a new laptop and a box of books. He plans to read 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' for the third time and maybe some more of a favorite historical figure, Frederick the Great. If he had had the resources, I think he would have first gone down to San Diego to his favorite wellness center, staffed by many people who have beat cancer by going there.

This is by no means an eulogy; he has promised to send me starts from his gooseberry bushes, the root stock of that famous gooseberry wine he makes. Nothing better than a shot of it after getting a chill on a cold winters day. And I still need him to guide me through building a chicken enclosure to move around a field of comfrey. He has some of the best ideas. And they have been researched to the max. I know that he was loathe to leave his infra-red warmed mattress in the house he built himself, with solar heating and a foot of sawdust in the walls. And his dried halibut, and gooseberry and home-ground six-grain sourdough pancakes.

John lived on a homestead in Uganik Bay, on the back side of Kodiak Island, for a number of years. His ten acres has a good anchorage, protected by the Village Islets. A lush compound in the midst of wild Alaska. There is a cannery complex at the head of the bay, with mail service and human presence, but other than that he shared the country with only Sitka black-tail deer and the famous Kodiak brown bears, the biggest bears in the world. And now he wants to sell it. Offered to the sturdy of heart only, not to mention the sturdy of pocketbook, because you'd need a good rig to get around on the water. My apple orchardist friend from Eastern Washington has the perfect boat for sale for this type of thing; a high endurance, custom welded aluminum Alaskan cabin cruiser. Think charter cruiser on steroids. Anyone interested in a good 'bug-out' site could contact me for more details. Locke would take care of things, too, if need be.

I've probably lost most readers by now, so I'll wrap it up. John recently send me some bottles of his gooseberry wine in exchange for a e-cigarette outfit. In the bottom of the box was a ten by ten inch piece of three quarter inch plywood from his boat, the 'Lindy II,' installed 90 years ago. Hanson built this boat for himself and put in all the best materials available. The fuel tanks were iron, not steel, aluminum or fiberglass. I could go on and on, but this piece of plywood is still sound and smells just like all the old wooden boats I've been on; hints of fish, oil and rust, combined with salt air and bacon and coffee. I'm thinking of making a men's cologne in the scent. In the least I'll put a brass plaque on it and hang it in my nautical guest room right over the bed so my older Alaska guests will feel right at home.

John doesn't want sympathy cards, just your best thoughts. I don't have his new number yet, and he will be checking his e-mails soon. Thanks for your time.