I received an email from my Bristol Bay salmon fisherman friend Jon; he said he was the last set-netter to leave Nushagak Point this summer, called it “a curious victory, of sorts.” I immediately fell in love with his term, ‘curious victory’, had to mull it over for a while, chew on it for a couple of days. Then I responded saying, ‘congratulations on your curious victory, funny, but a large part of the reward system for this business seems to be based on curious victories, so I hope you enjoy it’. Why I liked Jon’s term so much I wasn’t quite sure at first, but it kept popping back up in my brain, forcing me to think about it, like my sub-conscious heard something in there it knew I needed to ponder. So I’ve been a-ponderin’, and I think I’ve gotten to the essence of curious victories, I think I know why that term keeps insinuating itself upon my psyche. A curious victory to me is one that is hard to make someone else understand why you feel like you’ve won something, because the victory may have cost more than one could possibly expect to get out of winning it, or the cost out-weighs the tangible reward. A curious victory is one that other, smarter people aren’t necessarily competing for, because they know in the end it probably won’t pencil out. Here is where the importance of curious victories comes in, because few others want to win it, and chances are it will cost more than one will visibly get out of it, the true reward must be an internal one. A curious victory is private; it satisfies something only the individual competing for it can understand.
You may have seen in the news lately, it made all the big papers, Seafood Watch just changed their rating for 21 species harvested by my fishery, the Westcoast Groundfish Trawl Fishery, moving them from the ‘Avoid’ category to ‘Best Choice’, or ‘Preferred Alternative’. Huge news for my industry, something to be proud of for sure, especially when you consider it was declared a federal disaster in ‘2000. As a parent, sustainability has taken on new meaning and importance; certainly this new rating is something everyone can agree was worth competing for, why then does this term curious victory keep popping into my head when I think of it? I mean, to still be standing, to still be a participant in this fishery now that we’ve reached this huge, momentous milestone that we’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much for over the last decade and a half; shouldn’t I be overjoyed, proud, shouting it from the rooftops?
The key to my feelings about the Seafood Watch assessment, and why it feels like a dubious victory at best, lies not in what we’ve achieved, but in the cost. Remember, if you are one of the last left standing, it means you’ve seen a lot of buddies fall, may have even been the cause of the fall for some of them. This fishery over the last fifteen years has become increasingly competitive with diminishing rewards. At the end of ’02 we had the Federal Buyback, a fleet reduction measure, where half the fleet got a loan from the federal government to buy-out the other half. The owners of the boat I was running at the time decided to sell out, but neglected to tell me until a month before it went through, which means I hit the job market at a time when there was half the amount of available jobs, but twice as many people competing for them. I found a job, but I had to take it from another guy whose only crime was being ten years older than me, the age I am now. I guess what I’m trying to say here is; when I think of all the choices I was forced to make, all the sacrifices, missed birthdays and ballgames, in order to be one of those still standing, I ask myself would I do it all again knowing what I know now, or did it cost too much? Would I choose to change occupations and keep my friendship with Jack (the guy whose job I took)?
Don’t get me wrong; now that I’m here I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I’m proud of our accomplishment; it was necessary and a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe it’s that reaching the milestone causes one to reflect. I know these days you don’t have to look very hard to find stories of hardship and sacrifice, fishermen don’t have the corner on that market. But this Seafood Watch victory for me is bitter-sweet, red is the color of blood and it took some blood to get that green rating. So I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days, what would I be doing now had I made some of those choices differently? Then I read this poem by my buddy Clem Starck, and I smile a little to myself and go quietly back to work.
Fair weather and good fishin-
Stopping off at the Dari Mart in Harrisburg
for a six-pack of PBR,
I reflect on the path my life might have taken
had the conjunction of planets
All things considered, I could have been
the founder of a U-Bake Pizza empire,
or wound up
living with a ditzy blonde and her two kids
in a trailer park