In 1988 the price for Sockeye Salmon in Cook Inlet Alaska hit $2.65 a pound. We had a record season on my grandfather’s gillnet boat ‘Snug II’ that summer, and that was the year I decided commercial fishing was what I wanted to do for a living. In 1989 however, Cap’t. Joe Hazelwood ran the oil tanker Exxon Valdez onto some rocks in Prince William Sound, and some of the spilled oil made its way to Cook Inlet, forcing the drift gillnet fishery closed and beginning my education on the way the world works. When we came back in ‘90 there were no fish and the market had turned to farmed salmon to fill the void. In ‘91 the price for sockeyes in Cook Inlet was less than a third of what it had been three short years ago. Two more years, and the price hit its bottom of 35 cents a pound. Justified or not, since that time salmon farms and oil companies have come to symbolize for me all that is wrong and corrupt in this world.
Fast-forward fifteen years, and my son and I are sitting in the cab of my old truck at a football field in Astoria, Oregon, watching his teammates and the opposing team arrive for what was going to be his first football game. I could tell he was a little nervous. I was too, but I was trying to take his mind off it as much as I could. At one point he looked over at me and asked, “Do you think the other team eats farmed fish?” I had to restrain some tears, because it was at that point I realized he listens to what I say even if I’m not talking to him or am even aware he is listening. I remember feeling a sense of pride that what I talked about seemed important enough for him to store away. I realized I now had to caution myself when talking around him, knowing that what I was saying was possibly being mentally recorded. I don’t want my boy to grow up bitter.
In commercial fishing money is tight at times, and I am often gone working. Over the years I have had many doubts about what I have chosen to do for a living, wondering if my family would be better off had I found another means of support. The one thing however, that I have never questioned is my ability to feed my family the very finest protein available on this planet. I believe building a human body is like building anything else: the quality of materials used plays a huge part in the permanence and usefulness of the finished product. I was raised on salmon, halibut and moose. Over the years there have been times that I treated my body and brain very unkindly, but they have taken everything I have dished out, and somehow are still operational. It has been my hope that by replicating the diet I had while growing up, I will be able to give my kids an advantage many parents are unable to give their kids these days.
Maybe it sounds selfish, but I have done a fair amount of head scratching over this, and I think it is natural for a parent to want to give their child an advantage over the other kids their age. Also, I am distrustful of anyone who, when asked why they do something, fail to list at least one selfish motivation. I have come to the conclusion that in order for my children to reach their full potential they are going to need to be challenged by other kids their age with strong bodies and minds. The more I become aware of the state of the world around me, and the condition in which we are going to leave this planet for the next generation, the more strongly I feel it is my responsibility to do what I can to help kids other than mine become the healthiest, smartest adults they can be. The crap we’ve been serving on the school lunch tray runs counter to this end. The obesity, heart disease, and diabetes statistics prove it. We have tied these kid’s hands behind their backs, and given them a challenge few in our generation have been able to meet. I believe a big part of the solution is wild, sustainable fish in the school lunch programs, especially if you live within 150 miles of the coast.
I want to be an example to my kids. Teach them when life gives them adversity, they can either be a victim and just complain about it, or get pro-active and do something about it, even if it’s wrong. Doing something forces them to take a position. As long as they own their actions they will be able to learn from their mistakes, hopefully in doing so they will become better individuals, and make the world a better place in the process.
If it’s true,
what they say,
and you are what you eat,
my boy, with his
ling-cod-fueled tenacity and stamina,
is going to go through your boy
like a hot knife through partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,
and leave him laying there
like some disease-laden feedlot cow
staring stupidly, wondering,
what just happened.
Now , it’s not my place
to tell anyone how to raise their kids,
but I hope someone
will build their boy out of ling-cod too.
Because my boy ,
is going to need someone
to play with.