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Getting familiar with Alaska fishermen

  • Author: Laine Welch
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published February 13, 2016

Fishing lives and fishing wives are set to be showcased for a national audience — one as a documentary and the other, on reality television.

The first, an hour-long feature called "Last Man Fishing", focuses on the lifestyles and challenges facing our nation's small-scale fishermen.

"We're from Indiana and we realized there is a disconnect between the consumer and where their fish is coming from," said JD Schuyler, who is co-producing the documentary with his wife, Kelley. "We want to bridge the gap of people appreciating seafood, while also understanding the struggles of the small-scale fishermen."

The Schuylers, who have long been involved with the sustainable foods movement, first made the connection with the fishermen/co-owners of Sitka Salmon Shares, a "boat-to-doorstep" seafood company with hubs in the Midwest.

"Working with them allowed us to learn a lot about small-scale fishing and see some of the struggles," JD said. "It really connected with us and motivated us to start the project."

"We've learned a lot about how fisheries are being privatized, and how that … really makes it difficult for people to get into the trade," he added.

The team has since filmed fishing lives in Kodiak, St. Paul Island and Maine. The next stop is the Gulf of Mexico.

"A lot of people are losing their livelihood and the coastal communities are losing families and generations of practices and culture," echoed Kelley. On the flip side, the documentary highlights how many fishermen are now making their own inroads with direct sales to chefs and other consumers, learning how to get the most value out of their fish.

"We've seen that in Southeast Alaska and in Maine, and I think that is empowering small-scale fishermen."

"This isn't about us making money," JD Schuyler said. "It's about us telling an important story that is so meaningful to fishermen and communities. We are thankful to be a part of it."

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Fishing women wanted

A nationwide search is underway for fishermen's wives or fishing women who are willing to share their day-to-day lives with a film crew.

"We want to find a community of women who work together, who help watch each other's kids — who may not be related by blood but they might as well be family," said Amberlee Mucha, manager of talent development for Discovery Studios in Los Angeles.

She added that most reality shows focus on men who fish and it's time to put women in the spotlight.

"In all of our research, we have found that fishing is a way of life and it takes a whole community to support it," Mucha said. "So we are looking at it from another angle, how the women pull it all together to keep things going."

"The community supports the fishing and the fishing supports the community. We feel this is a really incredible thing and we would love to see a show that showcases that."

Producers are looking for a variety of personalities "who can keep it real in front of the cameras," she said.

The Discovery crew is still searching for the right fishing town and talent. Contact

Signal saved

Plans to pull the plug on a GPS signal still counted on by many mariners have been put on hold, thanks to an outpouring of comments, many from Alaska.

Claiming declining use across the country, the federal government planned to shut down 62 Differential Global Positioning Systems (DGPS) last month, leaving 22 sites available to users in coastal areas. Alaska has 15 sites; six were scheduled to close.

The sites came online in 1999 to supplement satellite-based GPS. The augmented signal provided better accuracy using land-based reference stations to transmit correction messages over radio frequencies. Many believe it has outlived its usefulness.

"The technology for GPS satellites and receivers has increased so much, the need to have so many signals really isn't there anymore," said Petty Officer John Gallagher, who serves aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Spar based in Kodiak. "A Federal Aviation Administration study in 2014 showed that GPS without the differential antenna signal achieved accuracy of position of less than one meter, in most cases."

That's fine for open seas, others argued, but operating in harbors, fjords and other tight spots prevents a line of sight.

Most of the nearly 170 comments to the federal Department of Transportation argued in favor of keeping the back-up system. A closer review is expected. "All lights remain on" for sites in Kodiak, Cold Bay, Kenai, Potato Point, Gustavus, Biorka Island, Level Island and Annette Island, according to the Coast Guard. One site, Cape Hinchinbrook, was lost due to an equipment failure.

North Pacific Management Council candidates

More than a dozen names are in the hat for two seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, replacing Duncan Fields of Kodiak, who has served the maximum of three years. David Long of Wasilla, whose first term also expires this year, could be reappointed. Also in the mix:

• Alan Austerman of Kodiak, a former Alaska legislator and fisheries policy advisory to Gov. Frank Murkowksi.

• Linda Behnken of Sitka, a commercial fisherman, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association and a former council member.

• Julie Bonney of Kodiak, director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank and who has helped shape fishery management structures in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

• Ed Dersham, who served eight years on the state Board of Fish and is a former two-term council member.

• Theresa Peterson, a commercial fisherman and the Kodiak outreach coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.

• Art Nelson, director of the Bering Sea Fisherman's Association, based in Anchorage; he also serves on a council advisory panel.

• Buck Laukitis of Homer, a commercial fisherman and past president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association.

• Paul Gronholdt of Sand Point, who represents the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands on the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. He is also a commercial fisherman.

• Rhonda Olivia Pitka of Beaver, a village chief who participated in a roundtable discussion with President Obama during his Alaska visit.

• Jim Sepel of Juneau, a retired Coast Guard commander who served on the Alaska Boating Safety Advisory Council under former Gov. Sean Parnell.

• Rebecca Skinner of Kodiak, an attorney who serves on the borough assembly and the Southwest Alaska Municipal Council.

• Emilie Springer of Homer, a fisherman who holds a master's degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington.

• Jed Whittaker of Anchorage, who has been active in Alaska's Green Party and various fishing and community-related programs.

Gov. Bill Walker will make his recommendations to the secretary of commerce.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist . Contact her at

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