This is a continuation of the interview with Hjalmar "Ofi" Olson and Robin Samuelsen, Jr. on July 25, 2013 by Karen Hebert and Mike Davis at Ofi's home in Dillingham, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Ofi and Robin talk about adovcacy for fishermen and the fishery in Bristol Bay, and the role of Alaska land claims in the fisheries. They also discuss changes to the fishery, fisheries management, and fishing practices. They also talk about the importance of education and provide some advice to the next generation.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Fishing and Natural Resources in Bristol Bay
Date of Interview: Jul 25, 2013
Narrator(s): Hjalmar "Ofi" Olson, Robin Samuelsen, Jr.
Interviewer(s): Karen Hebert, Michael E. "Mike" Davis
Transcriber: Landmark Associates, Inc.
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Ownership of boats
Conservation within the fishery, and organizations that represented local fishermen
The Western Alaska Cooperative Marketing Association (WACMA), and strikes
Accomplishments of WACMA
Alaska Native land claims and the role of fisheries
Personal roles in fisheries and land claims issues
Establishment of Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), land selection, and investments
How Robin got involved in local politics, and influence of his father
Changes in the fishery and the economics
Operation of Ocean Beauty Seafoods and effect on fish prices
Control of permits and getting involved in fishing
Changes in transportation and access to the fishery
Lessons learned to pass on to the current generation, and importance of education
Effect of state budget cuts on Bristol Bay
Changes to the set net fishery, and differences between generations
Changes in fishing methods and knowledge
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN HEBERT: Should we start off first talking about that or then -- or talking about WACMA (Western Alaska Cooperative Marketing Association) and how people started to get involved in -- in politics on behalf of people in the region?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I think that’s a good point because -- because it was things like that the people start taking an initiative, right? KAREN HEBERT: Right.
MIKE DAVIS: And they got an opportunity to take initiative to -- to -- instead of being just the cannery basically saying what they got -- KAREN HEBERT: Right.
MIKE DAVIS: People started taking initiative and that, sort of, made people more proactive about lots of other things.
KAREN HEBERT: So maybe -- so maybe should we start off with that and then come back to how that influenced -- ?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, that could be part of it the whole WACMA --
KAREN HEBERT: Yeah. Well, jump in. Feel free to jump in. Anyone. Just don’t let me run the show. OFI OLSON: Well, I think the --
KAREN HEBERT: Ofi, continue your earlier conversation (begun during the break) about the ownership of boats.
OFI OLSON: Well, the ownership of boats, I think -- after we -- after the Bay voted to get power, I think shaped many of us.
You could buy a conversion. A conversion is a sailboat with a 40 or 60 horse engine in it that the canneries converted.
And they sold them for about $2,000. You had to sign a five-year contract with them. That’s all they wanted. $400 a year, I guess, it was. And everything else that come with the insurance, and stuff like that. But it wasn’t too bad.
And they had another policy. If you want to finance a boat, you had to put, I think it was, 30 or one-third down on a new Bryant or a commercial wood boat.
Back then they were building a lot of them wood boats in Seattle and they were about 8,000 bucks. Landed here. Come up on Alaska Steam.
And the canneries required one third down and every -- I think the next summer when your boat came, you were going to pay 20 percent and maybe 20 percent for -- until the boat was paid off. And that worked out pretty good. That worked out pretty good.
But we had a local organization that organized here back in the early 50s: Tonuak. Tonuak stands for Togiak, Nushagak. They borrowed the local -- several people got together, they borrowed money from the BIA. They built some boats.
The boats went to their members and you had so many years to pay for it. That was -- that was a pretty good idea, but the canneries saw that as a -- as a - a flag, you know.
If you get everybody -- especially the Native fisherman. You had to be a resident of Dillingham or Togiak to qualify. If a Native fisher -- if they're going to see where all the Natives go to Tonuak and get a boat, I mean, it’s a loss of cannery control.
And so that Tonuak, I bought my first boat from them and that worked pretty good.
KAREN HEBERT: And you said it really shaped your perspectives. And how so?
OFI OLSON: Yeah, because you had something to work for, I guess, you know. Years -- well, I never did, but, my father fished for the cannery where everything is furnished, but you had to produce fish, too.
And when I signed my name on a loan over a boat, you know, here it is, hey, a nice, expensive boat. Five years to pay, so, you know, you had to go out there and produce.
So that’s what I’m saying. It -- it kind of shaped your mind, that you got to make money in this fishery, too. You can't just -- nobody’s going to give you a free boat or free nets. Yeah.
KAREN HEBERT: How about what’s your sense (to Robin) of how boat ownership and being independent, sort of, shaped --
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Well, I think WACMA and Tonuak, what it did was helped people become independent fishermen, not married to a cannery that dictated when you fished, how much you're going to get for your fish, how much you could catch. That type of thing.
And when Ofi and those people bought their boats they became quasi-independent fishermen. And it's helped in the negotiations of WACMA with -- with -- with companies.
Because if Mike’s boat was company-owned and Ofi’s boat was Ofi-owned, Ofi could go fishing, where Mike’s company could say you're not fishing.
WACMA always stuck up for the -- the locals. There was always negotiations going on with cannery superintendents.
And, you know, at times, WACMA went on strike in the name of conservation, because remember that the Japanese decimated our runs here. And the canneries that were coming up, they wanted a pack. They didn’t care about next year. They wanted -- they wanted a pack this year. And usually they wanted more than they could get, but there was no conservation in the cannery’s eyes.
And I remember one time, my dad was on the phone and I was listening to him, and he says, "We need a strike this year." And I think he was talking to Joe Clark. And Joe Clark said something, and he said, "No, I agree with you. We’re not going to get a better price, but we gotta act like it’s price. We’ve got to put more fish upriver. That way we’ll be able to make more money sooner than what the canneries want."
So WACMA’s played a lot -- lot of different -- a lot of different roles in -- in shaping Bristol Bay.
KAREN HEBERT: I have two quick questions. When -- when was it that people started to first get concerned about getting more fish upriver, these conservation issues? Do you have a sense of when that began?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: I -- I just remember after Japanese decimated our runs in Bristol Bay. I remember Governor Egan coming out and telling the federal government they better do something about the Japanese on the high seas.
And if the federal government didn’t do anything, he was going to make state workers block the river systems in Bristol Bay. And he wanted the federal government to throw the Japanese -- to get them away from the tidewaters of Bristol Bay.
KAREN HEBERT: So then maybe we can go back to the start of some of these early organizations that really brought people together to, you know, to advocate for region residents and watershed residents and their involvement in the fishery or other issues.
Can you tell me about the -- a little bit of the history of those organizations and how you -- what -- what role, if any, you played in them?
OFI OLSON: Well, I was just a member of WACMA. That was the only organization I belonged to.
But my grandfather came up here in 1902, and he was the ninth member to sign up with the Alaska Fishermen’s Union. Alaska Fishermen’s union, it was based in San Francisco, I believe.
And the members back then were different. They treated the local residents here different than the ones Outside.
You even had a letter on the boat that you -- stated that you were a resident. And it -- it was a lot different.
And getting back to conservation, I think when we became a state and the locals had more to say was when we -- we -- or people back then, started talking about conservation.
How much escapement we’ve got. How much can we catch? You know, had local biologist advisory committees, and that was a big involvement for local people.
KAREN HEBERT: Hm. And so how did WACMA get started here?
OFI OLSON: WACMA got started a year or two after we -- after the Bay voted for power. ’52, ’3, somewhere back there. And there was Harvey (Samuelsen) and Truman Emberg and --
MIKE DAVIS: Father Endal was involved in that, too. OFI OLSON: Father Endal, yeah. MIKE DAVIS: (Bob) Kallenberg was involved in it, too.
OFI OLSON: Kallenberg, yeah. Yeah, it was -- I’m sure the canneries back then didn’t want to see them organized, because if you got an organization that’s locally -- made up of local participants, you know --
Most of them joined, too. I think there was 350, 400 members of -- like I said earlier, of WACMA. And Togiak signed up. It was a good organization.
MIKE DAVIS: When -- how long did that organization last? When did that -- when did that organization get -- lose its power, so to speak?
OFI OLSON: I think it went out in the early ‘80s. There was a strike year and that’s the year that -- that Bristol Bay -- what was the name of that organization? Dean Paddock was in charge of that. ROBIN SAMUELSEN: (inaudible)
OFI OLSON: And he says we’ve got to look at this fishery a new way. Market driven and something like that, you know. All kinds of stuff we never heard before. And WACMA went out of business.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Too many people went out and scabbed on us. Locals stayed ashore. All the outsiders went out and loaded their boats. OFI OLSON: Yeah.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: And we had a tough year that year. Well, we had a tough couple strikes.
It was pretty evident to us that -- that non-watershed residents, as we said, didn’t care if they got paid a dime. They went fishing.
And they went fishing on us several times, and that’s when WACMA and AIFMA (Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association), the Outsiders union, started falling apart. And things changed very drastically.
MIKE DAVIS: It seemed like -- it seemed like to me that -- that one of the things that that strike illustrated was you didn’t need all these boats to harvest the fish. So those guys were getting rich and the other people weren’t. People sat on the beach.
KAREN HEBERT: So what do you think the biggest accomplishments of WACMA were over the course of its existence?
OFI OLSON: Getting people together. Getting 350 fishermen or 400 fishermen together and having a board of directors represent us, you know. I -- I -- we had -- we had respect. We had -- I don’t think we had complete control, but everybody honored what the board said. Yeah.
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I think -- I think if I could say this, too, is that this was kind of early. This was the first time when you -- the people got together and they were concerned about the resources and how to effect change in that resource, right? ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Um-hum.
MIKE DAVIS: And the relationships. And that, to me, that sort of colored some of those early people, like -- like your dad (to Robin, Harvey Samuelsen), and you, Ofi, got involved with -- with the land claims, too.
So you started working kind of as an advocate for, kind of, the greater community, I guess you might say. So that -- so that, sort of colored into or affected the land claims, too. And other issues, right?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Well, we’ve always had strong leaders in Bristol Bay. Things were -- in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s things were really tough around here. In the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s things started changing.
You know, in the ‘60s we didn’t have good communication, telephones. Everybody talked on 2638. Once in a while the phones would work. We had no TV.
Even -- I’m much younger than Ofi, I remember go gets -- go get butter, and I'd have to go reach in the salt tierce (a wooden barrel in which perishable foods were preserved, also used for salting fish by early salmon processors) to get butter. Go get ribs for supper. Pork ribs, you go take them out of the salt bucket. The little tierce --
A lot of us didn’t have electricity until the ‘60s, you know. A lot of us didn’t have running water, and a lot of us didn’t have flush toilets in our original houses.
And, you know, you ordered your grub one time a year. You didn’t go to the store very much unless you had some income. Most people didn’t have income. Most people worked in the cannery in the springtime and in the wintertime they’d draw unemployment, so there wasn’t too many options.
And when they formed WACMA, it was a glimmer of hope. It was a -- let’s -- let's -- We gotta find more opportunities for the -- for the watershed residents, because they are getting taken on every front.
And, you know, we hired Truman Emberg as a --as a general manager-type thing. Truman and Maxine Emberg.
And they had a pretty rough road to hoe, them early guys on that board. Even getting the canneries to sit down and talk with them.
There was a lot of times, if you're a WACMA representative and you went walking on the superintendent’s property, he’d come down -- you’d put up your hand, how you doing? He wouldn’t shake your hand. He’d tell you to get the hell off his property.
Then he’d call the other cannery sups and say Mike Davis was here. I just threw his ass off my property. I hope you guys do the same thing.
I mean, that’s the way it was back then. When we went on strike, we weren’t allowed to walk on Peter Pan dock. You weren’t allowed in the mess hall. You weren’t allowed in the coffee shops. I mean, it was a whole different world than what you see today.
KAREN HEBERT: And did the work that happened with WACMA, do you think that translated to other issues like land claims and other -- other work in the region?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Not -- not necessarily so, because Ofi and my dad and them were working on land claims many years before we got the settlement and networking with different regions.
Did -- did WACMA and our involvement in the fisheries in negotiations help us? Yeah. In land claims? I think it did.
'Cause we had a team that negotiated, and that team kind of went forward, you know. And we would have never taken second fiddle in our estimation. In the back seat, I mean.
BBNA (Bristol Bay Native Association) was formed by my father way back then, you know. And when the corporation (Bristol Bay Native Corporation - BBNC) came into being you seen my father was the president.
Ofi became president for 30 years or whatever it was. How many years you served on that board, Ofi, 40? OFI OLSON: It’ll be 39 years when I’m off this fall.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Thirty-nine years? I mean, you know. And we respect people like Ofi, and my dad, and Donald Nielsen for the stuff that they had to put up with in the early years to get where we are today.
And has fisheries played a role in it? I think it has.
You know, and we’re still not involved in fisheries. We have one of the most active advisory committees in the State of Alaska that operates under the Board of Fish.
We’ve retained our Board of Fish seats since Herman Schroeder days, you know, which is since statehood. We’ve basically had a person out of Bristol Bay represent us, so, -- with a lot of different problems today than our people had before.
KAREN HEBERT: It would be definitely good to speak to some of that. Maybe even before we get there you can each tell us a bit more about how you --
Since you’ve both been involved in so many different issues in this region over the years, involving fisheries and other resources, what really motivated your -- your getting involved in that way -- stepping up to the helm for 39 years, for example.
Could you maybe speak first to that before we go to these -- some of these other questions?
OFI OLSON: Well, the canneries were, kind of -- they didn’t allow much visitors around the cannery. They wanted their own fishermen and own employees.
I remember in ’61, I went to Egegik early and we tied up by a cannery down there. And some of these canneries had what they call a fish boss or a dock boss. Fish boss.
And we tied up at the dock and a guy hollered down, who do you fish for? Columbia Ward. Get the hell out. Go across the river.
You know, they didn’t want any other companies’ boats by their dock or walking around their cannery.
But I think being a board of directors for WACMA, which I never was, but -- gave those -- the board a good experience. You know, you -- they were negotiating with Nick Bez.
Nick Bez was one of the largest operators of salmon in the state. And Brindle -- A.W. Brindle -- he owned canneries from here to Ketchikan.
And they -- these guys had to negotiate with these guys for fish prices. And having that experience, I think, was a great experience for later years to come. I’m talking about Bristol Bay Native Association, and the Native Corporation, and stuff like that.
And I remember in ’60 -- about a year or two after BBNA was formed, my aunt called me. She said, "You ought to get interested in land claims." I said "Nah. I got my family." She says, "Yeah, it’s going to be big someday."
And so I went to the meeting in the fire hall. Lots of people in there. Twin Hills, Naknek, Chignik, all over. Usually have a two-, three-day meeting back then, and this was about three, four years before land claims started -- I mean, was settled.
And they talked and gave us reports about going to Washington D.C. and negotiating, you know. What they wanted in the act --
All the bad congressmen and all the good ones that would listen to them. And that was interesting.
And then I went to a couple of meetings here and then I moved up Koliganek, and I was up there for six years, from 1970. And people up there said, you know, "Go to AFN." "Nah, I don’t want to go AFN." "Yeah, nobody else want to go. You better go."
So me and Georgie (Nelson, of Koliganek) went. That was the first AFN when they voted for land claims.
That -- I forget the name of that place out there -- Methodist University. And the place was packed. If you got a Wien (Alaska Airways) ticket there was a brand new hotel downtown you could get a hotel room for $7. $7 if you showed your Wien ticket. Lots of free coffee.
And the room was smoky. A lot of people there, this L-shaped -- And they voted. It wasn’t unanimous. I think Arctic Slope voted against it. Yeah. And we came home after a couple of days and things were quiet for a while, and then BBNC was organized here. And then the village corporations. Yeah, a lot of history. KAREN HEBERT: Um-hum.
OFI OLSON: Yeah. I remember walking into a restaurant, me and Georgie, in Anchorage in 1971. Few days before Christmas. Wanted something to eat. Packed restaurant. We were hungry.
We wanted to get something to eat and walked in and right next there was a couple of guys standing there, and I heard them say, "I wonder what these guys going to do with all the money. It’s going to be gone. And then the land." I never paid much attention to them. I didn’t want to start anything. An argument.
Turned out different. I don’t think BBNC lost one acre of land, ANCSA land, anyway. Or the Village Corporation.
Yeah, it was a struggle in them early years for Bristol Bay, though. What did we know about investments? What did we -- you know, what did we know about -- ?
We -- we had to select -- help the Village Corporation select land. We had to work with the BIA on -- on stockholders signing up. That was a two-year project. Before we could even have an annual meeting.
And how many shareholders did we know of who was going to be shareholders? So the accounting department or board at that time issued more shares than what was the original 5,300 shareholders.
And we wound up with 5,300 and some shareholders. There's some at large shareholders, too.
And BBNC was required to -- in the Act, help the village corporation select the land. Our land department was pretty busy.
Plus, Harvey said we got to make money, so we had to look at investments back then, too. You know, what did we know? We didn’t know about pro forma and all that stuff.
We bought -- the first major investment we bought was Peter Pan Seafoods. 1975. $9 million. Oh, we thought that was a good investment. The price was right. It wasn’t too big amount for -- for Bristol Bay.
But what did we know about financing and about tendering and about -- you know? Of course, that was a management deal, but four years later we sold it for $23.5 million to the Japanese.
Oh, I was upset when we had to sell. Ugh! But 22 percent interest rate, couple of botulism cases, and just wasn’t -- wasn’t making money. Yeah.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: So you take me and you go ahead 20 years from Ofi, and I was in Egegik. And I probably went to the same cannery as Ofi did.
And I wanted to go to the cannery to take a maqi (steambath). And I get up on top the ladder -- not off the ladder. I just got onto the top of the ladder and the fish boss, our cannery superintendent, was standing there and said, “Who do you fish for? And where are you from?”
I said, “I fish for CWF (Columbia Ward Fisheries) Ekuk. And I’m from Dillingham.” “Liar! Get out of here.” I don't know if it was the same guy or not. OFI OLSON: Right.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: We’ll have to compare names. OFI OLSON: Italian guy.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: But I got thrown off of that dock and I had to untie and go away and that was in the mid-‘80s. Mid-‘80s.
KAREN HEBERT: And how did you get so involved in region politics, Robin?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: That’s all there was on my dad’s table as a young kid growing up. When he was sober and drinking coffee in the morning or when he was partying at night, it was fish politics, Native politics, fish politics, Native politics, Native politics, fish politics. And that’s all I listened to.
And as a young kid, he told me -- I’m his only son, though. I’ve got a sister, you know. And right across our street was the Luckhurst family. Seven boys there. And right on my right side living was the Golias, and there's five boys there.
And I used to get the shit kicked out of me all the time either by the Luckhursts or the Golias, and I’d come crying home and dad would say, "Grab a two-by-four. Get a piece of birch. Don’t come home crying to me."
So I was a fighter from early on. It was survival mode. I mean -- and all through high school, ninth, tenth grade, I mean, I was getting spankings in high school. They were designing new paddles to spank me, because I wouldn’t listen to teachers. I’d argue with teachers.
I remember when Hickel was first coming to Dillingham, and he was going to address the school, I wanted to do a big demonstration against him. I mean, I was politically active where people weren’t here, you know.
And I was going to get expelled for a week from school if I pulled it off against Hickel. But it was -- it was just something that I did in my family, you know.
And fishing, I grew up, never trust the canneries. They will screw you. And they’ll screw you when you're pewing the fish.
We used to pew when we unloaded the boats. You’d have a guy there that would count. And every fisherman knew that guy that was counting didn’t count every fish. If you had two fish on a pew you’d holler two, but, um -- no. My -- my family was involved in it and so I got involved, or re-learned.
KAREN HEBERT: And you mentioned earlier that the issues that this region faces today are different. How so? And what are the big issues today and how do those relate to those in the past?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Well, back then we didn’t -- we didn’t operate on what a bank said. On what a lending institution says.
Last night I heard of a new boat down in the boat harbor. It’s $535,000. I don’t think there's one of us in this room -- Maybe Mike Davis, since he’s the professor, could afford that kind of note at a bank.
I mean, you put 10 percent down, you know, $53,000 down and float a note. I mean, Christ, who could afford --
Just running the boat, it cost me around $15,000 to turn that key on on the boat. That’s insurance, grub, and all that kind of stuff.
And with these new boats, I mean, $535,000 boat, there's not many people that will survive. There's nobody that could buy a permit and buy that kind of boat and make it economical fishing. Nobody.
Look at this year. I mean, you know, if a boat’s around $100 -- $150,000, $180,000, you can. But our boats have developed so much, our nets have developed so much, and our ability to harvest fish now is so great.
I mean, there was -- just a couple years ago we were harvesting, like, 3.5 million fish a day in Bristol Bay. Egegik was hitting, Naknek was hitting, and we were hitting on the Nush (Nushagak).
And, you know, my boat is -- I’m sure you’ve seen it in my yard. Big aluminum boat. 25,000 pounds. I don’t even put scuppers in, you know.
Where 25,000 pounds in the ‘70s, there was no boat around that that can hold that much. Yup, Ofi? I can’t remember any. Maybe Thunder Chief? That was a big fiberglass boat. But today a lot of boats --
OFI OLSON: Too many, you know.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: High capacity. And -- we have -- when my wife and I were first married it was her and I fishing the boats. There was only two of you on a boat. There was no three, four people on a boat.
But as outsiders bought Limited Entry permits, they got more crewmen. You had to put more crewmen on to process your fish in the back of the boat faster.
And now, you're seeing three, four people on a boat, you know.
But the fisheries really changed from even the ‘70s to now. Big changes.
And the openings. I mean, we used to have a king opening on 9:00 a.m. Monday and shut down at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning. You know, all week, fish kings.
And now, we don’t even get a king opening, and if we do it’s three, four hours.
Our -- our salmon openings, sockeye salmon openings, are on the ebb. We never used to have ebb openings. We always opened half tide, took part of the flood, and then part of the ebb.
It’s changed. We’ve got an allocation in place now that -- between the drifters and set netters.
KAREN HEBERT: And what about how the organizing works around these issues?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: What do you mean organizing?
KAREN HEBERT: Like the political work that’s involved in trying to look out for --
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: That’s all done in the wintertime. And right up until we go fishing, trying to influence Tim (Sands) at Fish and Game to do the right thing, you know.
And then you hope he does it. That’s about all you can do. I write a lot of letters and emails to commissioners and directors of Fish and Game on the fishery.
MIKE DAVIS: Robin, how do -- how did -- You know, you just recently retired working for BBNC -- BBEDC (Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation), and you were -- you, as the -- as the person who was in charge there you also were running a fish processor, too.
So, I mean, how did that change your perspective on some of these issues, or what -- what insights did you have by being, not on the other side, but also sort of taking on that role, as well? What -- what -- what would you -- what perspective do you, sort of, get from -- from that?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: When we bought it (Ocean Beauty Seafoods), the price -- a year after we bought it the price dropped 40 cents a pound for Bristol Bay sockeye.
MIKE DAVIS: Year after you bought it?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Year after we bought it. The return on investment was terrible. I put a committee together to look at how we could extract more capital out of the company.
And if that meant changing product lines, we’re going to change product lines. If that meant dismissing employees that been there for 30 years and they didn’t want to change, that meant dismissing these employees.
My goal at that time, which I told the board of directors, is I want to be the first company to break $1.00 a pound. And we reached that goal. We were the first company in Bristol Bay to say the price will be $1.05 or whatever it was that year.
The company -- I’m the chairman of the board of Ocean Beauty, but I don’t have a day-to-day influence or call upon myself within the company. We have a management team that’s put together, and that management team meets about every three months.
But we had a number of strategic planning sessions that -- things that the three of us watershed residents that sit on that board with three of their people -- we had a number of problems with the way the company was operating.
And we went through each one and did the due diligence to see how we could make the company better. How we could get more money to the fishermen by breaking $1.00 a pound.
And it’s worked out pretty good. Last year -- last year your price of red salmon was going for about two -- between $2.56 and $2.80 a pound. Now, it’s up in the $4s. It’s $4.50, $4.75 a pound.
MIKE DAVIS: The wholesale price, you mean?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: The wholesale price, right now. I got that this morning.
Not too many buyers stepping forward right now. Everybody pretty much realizes that the prices paid to fishermen is kind of an arbitrary price because of Silver Bay Seafoods going into Naknek.
And the companies that are sitting around Bristol Bay right now don’t want to lose their good fishermen, so they came up with $1.50 a pound. And I think you’ll see another 10 cents above the $1.50, plus 10 to 12 cents for an RSW.
OFI OLSON: Five cents or more for bleeding.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: And five cents more for a bleeding. Right now, I think the Leader Creek folks that bled, iced, they're at $1.72 right now today.
KAREN HEBERT: Now -- so, Ofi, what about for you -- what -- and we can come back and both of you can reflect even more on this.
In terms of the issues that were most of concern and importance to people in the past involving resources, how does that relate to the ones that seem the most significant today?
OFI OLSON: Well, I think, pre-WACMA days, we had the Alaska Fishermen’s Union. I wasn’t a member. I was too young.
But to fish for a cannery, I believe I heard my father say, you had to be a member of that AFU. The Outside agent, Lower 48 agent, had a lot of clout with the superintendent.
And when WACMA was formed, we had a bunch of members that they represented. And that, when our WACMA person can go to Nick Bez and say, look, I’m representing 350 fishermen or 400, that has a lot of clout.
Nowadays, I think with a little card in your pocket, with a Limited Entry, I think the future looks bright for some young person getting into the fishery here. Like Robin said, where are they going to get the cash from?
I got two permits. Well, one is in my son’s name, and I got one. But my little grandchild that you saw come in here, he’s 13. In another year, maybe next year, he’ll go on a boat, if Eric (Ofi’s son) doesn’t fish the boat.
But he’ll eventually get my permit because where’s he going to get $100,000 to buy a permit? And a minimum to be competitive -- to be competitive out here you need a $150,000 boat or more. Maybe $200,000 boat? RSW, jets on it, maybe? High -- high horsepower.
How is that little guy going to be -- where is he going to raise $350,000, $300,000 in cash? He’s going to be in debt the rest of his life.
I look at it -- I got into the fishery by working. Maybe my age. Back then --
I don't know if I could compete with these guys now because when I started fishing it was five days a week. Then it was shortened to four days a week.
And now, it’s hours. And you got to have six people onboard. You see boats out here with six people. They don’t stop. They're working in shifts. How could a local people compete with them?
And they're putting in a lot of pounds and you with a two, three man crew you can't compete with them. They have a different perspective on this fishery than we do.
The local people here want to make a good living out of it. You know, if they buy stove oil, if they buy groceries, maybe a new TV, or a snow-go, they're happy. The snow-go could provide them caribou hunting, moose hunting. A Lund skiff.
A Lund skiff, when they first came here they were $800 bucks. Now, somebody said over $6,000 for an empty -- empty skiff. Lund skiff. The cost of living has gone up (background noise of water running) and to me I -- I'd rather give my permit to my grandkids or my kids than sell it.
KAREN HEBERT: So what are some thoughts -- OFI OLSON: And another thing -- KAREN HEBERT: Go on. Yeah.
OFI OLSON: Oh. Pre-statehood here, the fish commissioner, I don't know where he come from. I think on certain occasions they hired a local. Pete Fenno was one of them. He was the last fish commissioner I could remember.
But most of the time them they were in Seattle or wherever. And how are -- in the wintertime how -- how is people going to talk -- communicate with them?
You didn’t know nothing about the fishery until in the spring when they had an AFU meeting, which was -- you were required to go. And they had a meeting -- oh, we’re going to have a union meeting today.
A union agent would get up and explain some things. But, now, locally, we have an advisory committee, we got local biologists, we got state people. Our representatives in Juneau, they're willing to listen to us, you know. And if we have the right governor he’ll listen to us, too.
But a drastic, drastic change from years ago. A real big change. You don’t realize it until you lived it.
You know, there was no such thing as breakfast in -- or lunch in Ekwok. If you left here with a skiff at 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., you couldn't have lunch in Ekwok and a steam bath in Koliganek. It took five days to get up there with a loaded boat. Five days. KAREN HEBERT: Wow.
OFI OLSON: You know, you had a -- most of the time, a conversion or a slow, big, wide-slab wooden skiff with a nine horse Johnson. You know, you memorize the leans when you're going by.
Nowadays, everybody wants speed and that -- the fishery same way. You jump on an airplane here and you want to be in Anchorage in an hour on a jet.
Red Flensburg was one of the early air taxis here in the 1930s. He came here -- he was -- he used to work for Boeing. He was a Swede. That guy could build airplanes.
He told the local people here, he says, “One of these years, you're going to make Seattle in one day.” “Oh, you're crazy.” He said people -- it ain’t going to be that fast.
Look what we got now. Robin could leave here 9:00 in the morning and have supper in Seattle. ROBIN SAMUELSEN: I will Sunday. Yeah, you’re exactly right.
OFI OLSON: But when I was -- I was president of BBNC, I’d leave here at 9:30 in the morning and 5 o’clock, I was in Seattle. But that’s the way things are changing now.
And I -- I think anybody who keeps their permit for their kids has got a golden opportunity here. A golden opportunity, if you do it the right way.
MIKE DAVIS: You -- you guys covered a lot of ground here today. So I don't know if you're running out of gas or not, but, I mean, you -- you covered a lot of ground here.
And Karen, maybe -- maybe you should ask if anyone has anything else they want to say, but it’s probably -- KAREN HEBERT: Yeah.
MIKE DAVIS: You -- you don’t want these guys to fall over and start snoring on you, so --
KAREN HEBERT: Exactly. Well, I had one more quick question, and then maybe we could just open it up to anything else you feel like didn’t get said. If that’s okay, if we have the time.
But one is just, you know, sort of in closing, at least for today, from all of the political work you’ve done over the years on behalf, too, of region residents and the resources here what do you feel like is something that you’ve learned that might be useful to tell young people today who are, you know, trying to respond to different sort of resource development issues here or concerns about the fisheries or other things?
Is there -- are there things that you feel like you’ve learned from all your work that you feel like other people should -- should know?
OFI OLSON: Well -- ROBIN SAMUELSEN: And there’s -- Oh, go ahead, Ofi.
OFI OLSON: There's a couple of things, I think, that I’m happy that I was involved in when I was on the Fish and Game Advisory Committee here. And preaching the sermon to local people.
Two things that we should retain into the future that we can have control over this fishery. And it’s obvious. You can see it.
There's the 48-hour notice. I think that was started in the ‘50s. I think WACMA had a big -- WACMA had a big play in that years ago, because the boats used to run between here and Naknek, and in poor seasons, and they get the gravy in both areas.
But the 48-hour notice was put in. You could transfer. And the 32-foots -- (break in audio)
(loud background noise interference in the following section makes it hard to hear in places) If you took the 48 hours, it'd kill it for the locals. It would kill it for the locals.
I mean, how long does it take to go from the bell buoy out here to Johnson Hill? Slack water, it don’t take very long. Or run across to Egegik. And get the gravy and then come back.
That’s the way it was in the ‘50s, I remember. Because my uncles used to travel. They were fishing for Ekuk. Libby McNeill and Libby. And they fish here a day, and then go to Naknek. It was two days a week, I think, back then. But that would be -- For the future, I sure hope the people never vote for that.
KAREN HEBERT: What about for you, Robin, what would be something that you’ve learned that you feel like would be useful for people here to continue the work that you all have done?
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: The kids are so different today than when I was their age. I mean, you can’t even compare it. I mean, the electronics and communications that they have today.
Where we dreamed about -- we didn’t even dream about them because they were so far -- what they’ve got today is so far advanced to what I was when I was a kid.
But, you know, failure is going to be high. But what I tell young kids that come into BBEDC up there, you know, and go forward, and if you fail, you know, take a step back, see where your wrongs were, and then go forward again. Don’t give up the ship.
More and more, I’m seeing more and more of our young kids (end of section with poor audio quality) stepping up, going out for an education. I mean, when I graduated from school, I didn’t wanna go to college. I wanted to be a fisherman. I wanted to be a trapper.
My father made me go to college, and I thought that was the most stupidest thing he coulda ever done for me. And that was the mindset back in them days.
But today, you need a good education. And -- and I told my boy that he’d get my permit if he graduated from college. If he didn’t, I’ll sell it to somebody else. He’s not gonna get my permit.
And he earned my permit by getting a engineering degree from college. And I know that he will be able to come here and fish because of his full-time engineering job. He could have a bad season. He could have a good season. He doesn’t have to rely on this money.
If he has a good season, I know that Bristol Bay will pay for his kids’ college education just like it paid for my daughter’s and my son’s education.
But too many times our people in Bristol Bay, they fail, and they kinda get in a rut and reel back. And failure shouldn’t be something that you reel back on. You should -- you should learn from whatever the failures are and try to overcome them and -- and move on.
And I’m seeing more and more younger kids step up to the plate. And I’ve seen fathers bring sons into BBEDC to buy a Limited Entry permit, and we pay damn near half the Limited Entry permit right now. We give ‘em low interest rates.
A lotta kids -- I’ve seen two fathers, their sons are good fishermen and they’ve become the age to have a permit. And their dad wants them to get a permit and they won’t sign the papers.
Alice (Ruby, Economic Development/Permit Brokerage Director of BBEDC) had the papers all filled out and, you know, if it’s a hundred -- let’s say $100,000, it’s only $50,000.00 to them. And one of the dads was even gonna back up the kid as a backup signature. So if the loan failed, it wasn’t the kid we went after, it was the father we went after.
But I’m kinda concerned. I don’t see as many young people getting into the drift fishery. Set net fishery, yeah. But drift fishery seems to be not as many as I’d like to see getting into drift fishery, because we need to do about 40 permits a year to change this trend around where watershed residents own most of their permits.
I’m very concerned about the budgets for out here from the State of Alaska. State of Alaska hasn’t put money in Bristol Bay’s fisheries. We generate our own monies. We’re supplying money to Kuskokwim, we’re supplying money to the Yukon, we’re supplying money to Norton Sound, out of Bristol Bay’s funds.
I see a lot of the programs that kept this run alive and well through good management, state management. Budget cuts are happening and I’m afraid that a lot of our managers throughout the region don’t have the necessary tools to conduct good biology and keep this run healthy.
You look at this year, they didn’t even know there was fish out there when he opened it, and the whole bay was full of fish. I mean if you missed them first three or four days of fishing, you shouldn’t even launch your boat this year. You know. And I’m a little concerned about what the state is doing as far as investment in Bristol Bay.
OFI OLSON: Well, you know, you take a look at Ekuk Beach, which has been a gold mine for the fishery for the people that are set netting there. One of the best spots to own a set net site. You could literally fish with your slippers on down there.
When I fished at Ekuk in ’61, ’62, it was residents from Koliganek. Some of them are still fishing. Stuyahok, Portage Creek, Dillingham, Ekuk.
I know one old lady who had the number one site down there. I don’t know what the status of is it now, but if you go down there today, you’re gonna see one person own five sites, another person own three sites.
Multiple sites, you can -- you can in the fishery, but they changed the law on -- on permits, I guess last year. But it’s a sad case when that was a gold mine. Local people participated and now very few.
Like I said, if -- I think -- if -- if a young person wants to get into this fishery, he’s gonna need a lotta cash. That’s why I wanna pass mine on to my grandchildren.
But look at all the -- all these programs. Robin mentioned a few. But there’s more than what Robin mentioned.
There’s a scholarship program at BBNA, BBNC. BBEDC’s got a wonderful permit brokerage that they pay for some of the permit.
But you gotta have the ambition and initiative to wake up. These are good programs. Couldn’t all these -- I’m glad that I had -- on the scholarships education at BBNC, I used to be on the board at BBNA. I’m glad that I participated and had a chance to vote for those programs. And there’re so many programs that the young people --
But there’s a different lifestyle between the young people and ours today. First of all, a young person goes to college, graduates, meets all his friends there. He’s gonna stick around there for a few years. Maybe get a job or get a job in Anchorage or wherever because we don’t have the jobs here for them.
You know, how many of our kids go to -- are gonna have a state job, biologist or whatever? How many kids can -- some of ‘em are getting teacher degrees, but not as many as we’d like to see.
So, they got a whole different lifestyle. Maybe they went to law school. How many -- can they make a living as a lawyer here? I don’t know. But they have a different outlook on life than we did, you know.
I remember fishing in an open skiff. When we got tired, we went to the mouth of Queen Slough and covered ourself in a old tarpaulin that smelled to high hell. And, we didn’t mind it.
We didn’t know if we were gonna elevate up to a boat one of these days and have the -- have the comforts. But you think these young kids would do that now? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
May -- you know, for one month, they come fishing out here. On the good years, they make pretty good, but you gotta be prepared to take your lumps if you’re in the fishing business. It’s a rollercoaster.
And that’s the way I remember it for the last 60 some years. It’s up and down. The runs are not gonna be $40 million every year. They’re gonna be down like this year and even less.
You know. BBNC is doing a survey. I think the survey is over now. Whether we should enroll these young people. But I’m getting more and more skeptical about supporting that program because like I say, a -- a kid goes to California, goes to college and what the hell does he care about the land, or land claims, as long as he get his check.
So they could be a -- a -- a voting block that votes against us old timers to sell the land. And then what the hell would we -- so I’m getting kinda skeptical about supporting that. I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I’m real concerned that could happen down the future. They -- they -- if we enroll enough of them, they could out-vote us here.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: You know, when Ofi and I were younger, that’s all we had, was a compass in the boats. And if you’re lucky and really got the electronics, you got a fathometer.
Compared to today, I hear on the radio, I’m going to Dillingham because my GPS is out. They gotta fish with a GPS, where before we’d watch the currents and the tides.
I mean, I remember when I was 17 going down, Egegik and fishing, and I think I seen land one time because it was foggy and rough, and I never went up to the village.
We went up to Naknek with a compass in the fog. I thought I was gonna drown. I didn’t know where I was. It was unreal.
But we had a compass and we had a fathometer, and as long as that fathometer stayed about six, seven feet of water, we were happy. But today, it’s completely different.
OFI OLSON: We had a cousin that fished a 22, 24-foot skiff. He’s dead now. But he was a tough fisherman, fishing a skiff.
He’d get a load of fish. He’d go to the mouth of Queen Slough, pew ‘em up in the grass, go get another load, come back or deliver that load, and then go back and in the grass and pew that fish in.
How’d the hell he do it? But, hey, didn’t know any better. That’s -- you had to do it. ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Yeah.
OFI OLSON: On a 12 hour, 24 hour opener. You want to put in all the fish you can. Eddie -- ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Yeah.
MIKE DAVIS: Was that Nicholson? OFI OLSON: Yep. ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Yeah. Okay?
KAREN HEBERT: Okay.
ROBIN SAMUELSEN: Good enough for today? KAREN HEBERT: Good enough for today.
OFI OLSON: Okay, Karen.
KAREN HEBERT: Thank you both very much.