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Joanne Nelson, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with E. Joanne Nelson on July 10, 2014 by Karen "Lexi" Tuddenham in Dillingham, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Joanne talks about the Nushagak Women in Fisheries organization, local leadership, changes in fishing, fish populations and fisheries management. She also talks about the debate over the Pebble Mine, and environmental and social impacts from mining and development. Her husband, George Nelson, is present during the interview, but he does not say anything.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2016-12-02_PT.2

Project: Fishing and Natural Resources in Bristol Bay
Date of Interview: Jul 10, 2014
Narrator(s): Joanne Nelson
Interviewer(s): Karen "Lexi" Tuddenham
Transcriber: Landmark Associates, Inc.
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Science Foundation, The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University
Alternate Transcripts
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There is no slideshow for this person.

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Nushagak Women in Fisheries organization and projects

Local Native leadership

Education, local board of directors, and resource management

High cost of living and dependence on subsistence fishing

Changes in the fish and fish populations

Debate over development of Pebble Mine: jobs versus environmental impact

Local impacts from development and lack of local hire, and community change

Changes in fishing, fishery management, and use of test boats

Wood River fishery

Future in Bristol Bay

Impact from proposed development

Division within the community

Importance of trusting and following wildlife and fishing regulations

Changes in the caribou population and hunting

Environmental change of the beaches in the area

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This interview has been edited.

JOANNE NELSON: I wanna talk about Nushagak Women in Fisheries. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Okay.

JOANNE NELSON: When they had fisheries conferences here, I would work as secretary, halftime, to the Marine Advisory Program agent. And the other half, I would work with BBNA’s (Bristol Bay Native Association) fisheries persons. And the two of them, together, would, you know, organize the conference.

And there would be representatives from each of the villages. And there would be elder representatives from each village. And people -- bigwigs in the fishing industry, would come from all over. Seattle, California.

Fishery scientists would come. There would be seminars.

And my boss, one time, said to me, “You know what we need in Dillingham is a women’s fisheries organization,” 'cause the women fished, too, but they were never noticed. And so, she said, “Research it. Get ahold of this woman, Anne Mossness in Seattle. She is the head of the one in Seattle area. And find out how it’s done.”

And so, Anne -- with Anne’s assistance and input, I created a seminar for that.

And Paula, my agent, she said, “Okay, now, it’ll be a certain time in a certain room, and you’ll --” I said, “I’m gonna?” She said, “Well, yeah. You wrote it up. You present it.” So I did.

And the women there would not leave the room until we had organized a Nushagak Women in Fisheries, and, you know, elected a president and a treasurer. I mean, really, created an organization.

So, what -- what our main goal, then -- we decided our first goal would be that we wanted to support a group called SeaCOPS. And SeaCOPS was a really grassroot organization created by some concerned fishermen, in regard to the mist nets in the high seas by the Japanese.

And these -- They were like 100 miles long or so, you know, these mist nets. And they’d break loose from the mother ship, and then they were just a floating wall of death.

And they killed birds, and (phone rings) sea mammals, and fish. Then they floated on forever because they were monofilament.

And so this group got together and says, “We’ve gotta put a stop to that.” Well, my Marine Advisory Program agent, at that time, said, “You know, this’ll never work.” But Nushagak Women in Fisheries felt like it was worth the effort.

And so, we had fundraisers, big fish fries, and stuff like that. And we sent a donation to them. And our donation probably didn’t matter that much, but the truth of the matter is that they were successful.

And my Marine Advisory agent was very surprised that this little group could actually force, you know, an agreement between two countries.

And then, we decided that the next thing we wanted was a memorial to people who had died in the waters of Bristol Bay. And the result of that is down at the harbor. Have you seen it?

LEXI TUDDENHAM: The half boat and the -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: Yes, and the tower, and the -- And the -- My oldest son designed it. And then, our president at that time, she built a model that was just beautiful.

And then, the harbor master at the time, he said, “Well, I’ll help you out.” And he got donations of the pilings from the city and what.

And so the last of the money went to the little bronze. And there was a little money left over, and we said that anyone who -- You know, we just made it known that, if you lose someone, contact Wanda. She’ll see that you get a plaque.

And so, then we disbanded, so we didn’t have that anymore.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Oh, wow. So when was that, that you had this Nushagak Women’s -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: I would say it was -- Well, it was prior to 1992. That’s all I know, for sure.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Do you think there would be an interest in such a group now?

JOANNE NELSON: I think, in order for there to be an interest in a group like that, you would have to have a goal or a project, something to draw them in. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right.

JOANNE NELSON: And the fishing community itself, is not so tight-knit. Not everybody knows everybody, like they used to, because a lot of the permits have been sold out of the area. And a lot of those people come in. They don’t bring their wives, so --

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Huh. So, that’s -- that’s really interesting. So, what did you work on, besides this Nushagak Women’s sort of cooperative, when you were with the Sea Grant Program?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, like -- Well, fisheries conference every year, annual thing. And Native convention for Bristol Bay. I also worked on other conventions. I was into helping organize conventions.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: So these large group things? JOANNE NELSON: Hm mm.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: And what was -- what were some of the exciting things that happened at those or -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, I don't know. It was Native politics at its finest. Yeah, that’s all. Yeah.

The part I always liked about it best was the elders that came in from the villages. I just loved them. Yeah. And there were -- issues came up that concerned them. And they would be separate from the young people who --

During decentralization and the Native Land Claims Settlement Act, right away, these young people were thrown into important positions, leading big corporations.

And what I noticed about that, about them, after a while, was that most of those young people were educated not in Dillingham. They were -- they were the kids who had been sent away to Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka, or Chemawa in Oregon, or -- What is the name of the place in Oklahoma? Caskill or -- ? (Chilocco was a boarding school for Native Americans located in Oklahoma.)

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Maybe. I’ve heard of it.

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah. And those kids had -- they were more worldly, more aware, better educated.

And they took over those positions. That was a big change because always it had been the elders.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: So, how do you think -- do -- do -- was that disruptive? How did that change the sort of -- the social dynamics or the cultural dynamics?

JOANNE NELSON: I think it was very -- I think it was very hard on the young people because they were given a heavier load than they had ever anticipated or planned for, prepared for.

And the elders, I think that it was like some of them were proud of their young people, and some of 'em felt threatened. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah.

JOANNE NELSON: But it all worked out. And now it’s just a given. The leaders are the -- like Robin Samuelson. Well, he was even too young to have been a leader, at that time.

Yeah, the -- the ones that were leaders at that time were old people, like me. We've aged.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: I guess that’s what happens, right? That they stay powerful. So, do you see the same sort of power handoff happening now with -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: Let me think about that. What I have noticed is that the leading positions -- the Native leaders, like in BBNA (Bristol Bay Native Association), BBEDC (Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation), BBNA, they have been hiring Caucasians to lead.

Yes, those are not being led -- However, the board of directors are always made up -- LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right.

JOANNE NELSON: Yes, the one exception being Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, where the leader and the second in command are both young Native -- Well, they’re not young anymore, but they’re -- they're Native youth that were born and raised in Clark’s Point.


LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah, that’s interesting. So how do you think, first, sort of this new generation back in -- right after ANCSA, how did the fact that people were educated outside of the state change the way they saw resource issues, whether fisheries or land issues or -- or subsistence or whatever?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, I think because of spending -- having spent most of their life at their mother’s knee, you might say, living a subsistence lifestyle, they never lost that.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Hm mm. Even after they were sent away.

JOANNE NELSON: Even after they were sent away. I’m -- I'm sure that, when they came back, one of the first things that they wanted to do was go hunting, or go fishing, or go berry picking. Yeah, they never lost their -- their culture, you might say.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: And now, with what you’re saying about, you know, a lot of Caucasian leaders, and the Native -- but sometimes a Native board, how does that change how these resources are -- are governed and taken care of and managed?

JOANNE NELSON: That I don’t really know. I -- I would doubt that it changes very much because the board of directors is made up of locals. Like BBNA, Bristol Bay Native Association, their board of directors has one representative from each of the villages in the Bristol Bay area.

Actually, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, that’s what their board is made up of.

BBNC (Bristol Bay Native Corporation) is based in Anchorage now, and it is -- it is -- they have a limited board of directors, and they’re not -- they have to go out and solicit proxies every year, if they wanna stay on that. And most of them have been away to college.

Our son actually spent some time at Purdue. Yeah. Because, once he got on the board, they send -- they -- they make sure that their board of directors are well educated. They travel to -- they travel all over.

BBNC has business interests in like Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia, and where? Arizona, or maybe Texas or -- Yeah, and so they travel to all these people -- places and learn what’s going on there. And it’s a hands-on thing. They just don’t sit there and get told what to do. They -- they are involved.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right, I’m sure. That's interesting. So then, have you seen changes -- major changes in the way that the fishery, for example, is governed over the years, or managed?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, of course, as soon as the fishery was sold to the Japanese, things changed there. Peter Pan Seafood is owned by the Japanese.

And when it was owned by local, well, for one thing, any fisherman, like maybe they had to be a good fisherman, could turn in their grub list and the cannery, when the crew got out the Lower 48, they did all that shopping, and they sent that food up.

And that, over the -- and then, the cost of the grub stake was taken out of their fishing pay in the fall. I don't think the cannery does that anymore. If they do, I’m not aware of it. Span Alaska, they’re -- they're the people that locals order their grub stake through, mostly.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah. And does -- do most people still do at least a -- a yearly big order of food?

JOANNE NELSON: A lot of people that I know do, but they’re mostly old school, like we are. The new people who come, like hire on at the hospital, I doubt very much if they do that.

But I also suspect that they do a lot of ordering out of Anchorage because the prices here are just horrible. Horrible.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah, they’re pretty bad.

JOANNE NELSON: They’re horrible. I -- I don't see that there’s any justification for the prices they’re charging. I call it criminal. I do. I call it criminal. And I -- A lot of people have moved out of this area because they can’t afford to live here.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Has that -- is that something that’s changed over the years, or has it always just been expensive out here?

JOANNE NELSON: It’s always been expensive, but not like now. I’ll just give you an example.

I almost fainted in the aisle of the stores last week. We do -- We -- Senior discount on Monday at N&N, ten percent. It’s ten percent senior discount on -- at AC Company on Wednesday. So, that’s the two days I do my shopping. I don't shop any other time.

Well, I went down to the store on a Monday, about a week ago or so. And I needed to buy some razorblades, you know, for Gillette. I think there’s four in a pack. I reached for 'em and I looked at the price. $29.00 and something for four razor heads.

I said, “That’s absolutely unacceptable.” LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right.

JOANNE NELSON: I said, “Let’s stop at AC on the way out of town and -- and get you some there.” We stopped at AC. $38.00 and something for the same thing.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: What? How is that possible?

JOANNE NELSON: I don't know. And I just looked at him and said, “Honey, I think you’re gonna grow a beard.” Yeah, yeah, the prices are ridiculous.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Huh. Yeah, and clearly there is -- You know, they’re not even talking to each other about the price that they’re charging.

JOANNE NELSON: No. And what we depend on mostly is subsistence fish. We eat fish twice a week, all winter long.

And right now, we have, like I mentioned, like 47 fish down in that bathtub down by the garage. We use an old bathtub full of water to keep our fish good 'til we can get to them.

And earlier this summer, our son went out and brought in three different times of fishing, 130 king salmon, and we made smoked strips, salt fish, canned fish.

And I have a lot of flesh that I’ll make jerky out of later. It’s in the freezer. And we freeze fillets, and we freeze heads, and we split and dry and smoke tails and freeze those. And we eat those all winter long.

And then, just now, he’s gotten the reds. And the girls are doing frozen filets and canned fish. And then, I'm going -- mine, I’m going to cut them thin and hang 'em in the rack there for a -- a few days, and then hang 'em in the smokehouse and smoke them for -- we call it dry fish.

Some people call it eating fish. Some people call it flat fish. It’s just your typical dried fish, no salt or anything on it.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah. Have you seen changes in the fish, themselves, over the years? 'Cause you -- you talk a lot about the birds.

JOANNE NELSON: Hm-mm, I have. What I noticed, when I was butchering one yesterday, is they seem to have more parasites. There is -- there is a parasite that’s a little puddle of almost like tapeworm that you’ll find in the flesh.

And then, there’s another one. It’s a -- it's a little curly fellow. And we find a lot of that in smelts, but once in a while in salmon, as well.

And then, there is a parasite that lives amongst his intestines. And I’ve seen more of that. More fish have the intestinal parasites than they used to have.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Interesting. Are the -- are the fish the same size? Is it -- Are the runs good all the time?

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah, I think the -- the fish are the same size. The runs are about the same. The ADF&G (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) usually gets the escapement they -- they want, and the people get what they want.

And then, of course, you could go up to the lake, late, after they’ve spawned out, and catch some of those red ones, with the green heads. And we usually just freeze some whole and to boil in the winter. Or the rest we slit and dry them, dry fish.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: What are the spawned out fish called? JOANNE NELSON: Syathlook. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Syathlook.

So how did you learn how to put up fish and to do all this stuff? Was that from the cannery or from -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: From George’s mother. LEXI TUDDENHAM: That's great. JOANNE NELSON: Yeah, I learned at the splitting table, home -- home style. Yeah. Oh, down at the cannery, they do it so much different than we do.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right, right, right. Yeah. So then, I guess a little bit more about -- So, have you been involved in any efforts to sort of manage resources better, or -- or sort of debates over resources over the years?

I know, for example, oil and gas has come up a lot. Or, you know, a lot of people around here talk about the Pebble Mine, or, you know, maybe hydropower. Have you been involved in any of those -- those debates or -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: No, except for the Pebble project. I have attended all of the town gatherings. And any time I can get involved on that one, I do.

And I -- You know, everybody'll say we're -- you know, fish is our life, and we need to preserve it, and Pebble Mine will destroy it.

And at that meeting, where the lady from -- I think her name was Gail, was it? From Washington D.C. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Gina, maybe?

JOANNE NELSON: Gina, that’s her name, yeah. I got up and went to the mic. And what I spoke of was birds, and said that it’s not only that the fish are very important, but the birds are, too.

And that -- well, there was a mine -- open-pit mine in Butte, Montana, and after they finished there, they left that holding pond. And hundreds of snow geese died there.

And I presented that -- those -- that story to them, and said that, in Arizona, there’s also an open pit -- is that it or New Mexico?

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Arizona, I think.

JOANNE NELSON: And there, they send guys out in these specially covered bottoms of boats, so that they don’t get -- get corroded from the impurities in the water.

And they go out there with dip nets, and they dip-net the dead birds off the surface of the water. And -- and that’s unacceptable.

That’s unacceptable because people live on the migratory birds here, the ducks, the geese, the swans. And you can't -- you can’t forget about the birds.

And I actually presented her with one of my books. And later on, I got it back in the mail, with a thank you note, saying that she’s only allowed to accept, you know, certain -- I forgot what the letter said, but --

LEXI TUDDENHAM: But, that’s great. That’s nice. That’s a good point. So is -- is that, then, what you think of Pebble?

Because, I guess, one thing that has come up a lot is that people talk about how, you know, there’s maybe a need for more jobs, especially in the villages. You know, there's -- there’s a fair number of jobs in Dillingham, but --

JOANNE NELSON: Yes. So, what village are we talking about? Nondalton, Iliamna, Newhalen, Pedro Bay? Yeah, those people up there, what, 100 people, maximum, if it ever gets up and going.

They will not hire local. No big company that’s ever come into the area and said, “We’re gonna have local hire.” They don’t.

Even the North Slope, you see it. And they’re not gonna hire all those people up there. Those people are not gonna get rich. They’re not even gonna get a comfortable living out of it.

And to be concerned about that handful of people up there, when hundreds and hundreds of people that benefit from the salmon run -- thousands of people benefit from the salmon run. It’s the last great wild salmon fishery in the world.

And, well, it just gives me the shivers to think how anyone would consider putting a mine up there. And you cannot say that they’ll build their dam in such a way that it will never leak. What’s never, eternity?

I mean, I don't care if it’s five, six generations down the line from me. I don't want that happening to people.

And then, there’s this, too. The fish. The fish come in, and they spawn.

And, well, we’ll take Brooks River for an example because they did a study there. And for miles back from the river, when they did soil testing, there’s DNA of salmon because the bears eat the salmon. They go and they dump in the woods.

The birds eat the salmon. They go poop in the woods. You know, and so the nutrients from the dead fish are spread far and wide.

Not only do the birds and the fish and the bears all live off of that, then the fish carcass and stuff fertilize the grass and the brush. And so, the moose and the caribou eat that.

I mean, you know, when you think about it, that run of fish is your basis for the health of the whole system.

And if the fish aren’t there, then, you know, what are you gonna have? It’ll just be like a -- like dominos. Duh, duh, duh, duh. One species after another will decline. It’s the most horrible thing I think I could imagine.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Have you seen things like that come through, or be considered before, other mines or other development projects?

JOANNE NELSON: Not other mines. But I will say that, in the fishery, they need to -- In the fishery, they have come in more and more barges. And these barges are not being built every day. These are old things.

We had a oil spill down on Igushik last year. And they had to close the Igushik fishery. And all those people had to be compensated. But even if they got compensated, where did that oil go? It’s contaminated something, somewhere. It doesn’t all evaporate, and they don’t clean it all up.

And this summer, I’m not sure where. I think it’s up the river a little. Another one hit a rock or something. There was a spill this summer.

And as long as they keep sending more and more old, decrepit floating objects into this bay, there will be more oil spills. And every one of 'em is detrimental.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right. You also mentioned that, when companies have come through before and said that they’ll -- they'll hire local, they haven’t done it. Are there -- are there specific instances?

JOANNE NELSON: Let me see. Well, they’re not companies that have been -- anybody’s campaigned against or anything. But right up at the end of the -- there was a company called Dragnet. And they -- the rumor was that all the workers that they brought in, they picked up off of like Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, you know.

And we were worried about our safety here because it’s what, a three-mile road, or something like that. And so when they have time off, they wander down the road. I mean, they’re headed for town.

And it’s happening today. Snowpack, I believe -- no, Snowpack was the next one to come in. And now, I believe it’s Icicle.

And every time they come in, they bring derelicts. I shouldn’t say that. They bring workers from wherever. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right, right.

JOANNE NELSON: And many -- many is the time that they think they can go across -- if they’re gonna take a shortcut to town, well -- LEXI TUDDENHAM: It’s right across your road.

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah. And so they go down to Russell’s and find out it’s just a cul-de-sac, and they go back out.

But each time that happens, you know, it’s felt as a threat because who knows what kinda people? And maybe they'll look at that fine house down at the end there and say, “Hmm.”

You know, and -- and we don’t lock our doors. We don’t have a key to our door. That’s always been -- always been that way.

So Margo and Mickey, they're -- they're new to the neighborhood. They built -- (To George) Have they been living there a year, honey or -- ? Maybe we’re going on two years, maybe a year, I’m not sure. And they do lock their doors, when they go. In fact, Mickey has surveillance cameras. One aimed at his oil drum.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Hm mm. Huh. Do you think there’s more or less trust in the community than there used to be?

JOANNE NELSON: Oh, yeah. We’re -- we're having a hard time letting go of the trust. And so, we haven’t even looked for a key for the door. Like we -- you know, we went upriver. Well, our grandson and son were here, periodically, while we were gone, but --

Our son lives with us. He spends every night. And the grandson, he’s either here or at his mom’s place. He’s -- he's at his sister’s, but it’s actually his mother’s house on Waskey just a short distance.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah, so it’s nearby. Huh. I guess, is -- is fishing harder, easier than it used to be?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, I think that fishing is easier because of the modernized equipment. And it's like you used to pull the nets by hand over a wooden roller. And then, they started pulling 'em over a hydraulically run roller.

And then, we got -- went to the big drum one that wound it in on this big drum in the boat. And so, things keep improving.

And so -- And the boats are getting bigger and fancier. I remember when we had a boat with two little bunks here, you know. And the engine was right here. And there was no stove. We had a Coleman two-burner, and we’d open it up and cook there.

Well, now, they have cute little stoves, and they have little sinks in them. And they have maybe three bunks down in the next level. And they have a little table with the little benches on each side, you know.

We -- we went from the first one to that one, too. And they’re even fancier now, bigger and fancier.

So, it’s more comfortable fishing, and easier fishing, but much more expensive fishing, and not as many fish. The ADF&G regulates it.

George and the boys, when they were like, oh, 10, 11, they would go out, and (to George) you guys would fish for a week, huh? And they’d stay out for a week at a time.

Now, it’s 24 hours, or 12 hours. And, of course, they’re not catching as many fish.


LEXI TUDDENHAM: What do you think of that regulation? Is it -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: When it first started being regulated -- I wish I could think what year that was. I’m going to think about that.

Forty-some years ago, when they first started regulating it, the fellow that was the area director here for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was Mike Nelson.

And he started tightening things up and making sure that escapement got -- they started putting the towers up, so they could count the fish that went by, so they’d get an idea of the escapement.

And he's the one that -- he -- he took a lot of guff. He couldn’t even go out, socially, because people were on him all the time about, “Why did you do this? How come you closed it? I didn’t get my catch.“ You know.

However, he turned the fishery around. It turned around, and the fish that started coming back after, of course, four years, 'cause they’re four-year fish. And he let the escapement --

He got the escapement that he felt was healthy. They spawned. Those smolt went out. They spent their four years. And when they came back, everyone was happy.

And they hired George to be a test boat fisherman, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And he test boat fished for them for 20 years. And instead of just guessing when the fish were going to come in, he was out there --

Well, Jeff Skrade, who was the head of US Fish and Wildlife -- no, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. By that time, said just like a couple weeks ago, we were down to visit him. He introduced George to his coworker and said, “This -- this guy has spent more hours fishing on the water than any other man in Bristol Bay.”

That he’d go out there. And he says, “He’d go out there, look for the fish, and he knew where to find 'em." And when he found the fish and saw that they were coming in, he would radio me and say, "We’re heading for the dock. Bring the boys down."

'Cause he had ADF&G people on board. Bring crackers. Bring meat. Bring -- you know, he'd tell everything that he needed.

And I would drive down there and offload my kids and the grub onto the boat, while the ADF&G people took their equipment and got off the boat, and then he would go back out fishing. So he was on the water all the time. And he did that for 20 years.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Wow. Huh. So, it seems like -- I think someone told us there’s no funding for test boats this year. How -- how do you think --

JOANNE NELSON: Okay, there’s an interesting point. When he first started, the test boat fishermen, whatever they delivered they got paid for. Later on, no.

Oh, and what he had on board the boat, I would back down the dock, and he’d put in there, and we’d take home and keep.

Then -- then later on, the ADF&G said, “No, we’re gonna -- we’ll pay you so much, but we’re keeping the money for the fish.” So, if the test boat fish -- if there’s no funding for the test boat fishery, it means that the test boat fisherman is not finding the fish.

Yeah, they're -- they have an incompetent test boat fisherman captain. That’s what I would say. Because, if he’s finding the fish -- and they don’t -- and they don’t make the test boat fishermen stay way out there. They let them come right up into the river.

Right off here is called Picnic Point. And it’s the upper end of Grassy Island. And George has test boat fished as far up as that, 'cause I was with him on one of those fisheries.

We were down by Coffee Point, and they said, “We’re gonna test boat up by Picnic Point, and so just anchor up for the night.” And George says, “Well, I’m gonna run on up and anchor up there.”

We anchored up there, and in the night, I needed to go out. And it was dead calm. And the bugs were thick, and the beluga were all around our boat. Spew, spew, spew. They were eating fish. The run was there.

In the morning, he set his net. It boiled. They came right on in and opened the fishery.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Wow. That's really neat. I got to see belugas last year, actually, when I was out there. It was really cool.

JOANNE NELSON: And where did you see them? LEXI TUDDENHAM: Just out here. JOANNE NELSON: Oh, here? Here in Dilling -- oh, yeah.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Just -- just below Icicle, basically, around this -- I guess they like to hang out here at the mouth of the -- mouth of the river.

JOANNE NELSON: They like to come right up on in here, too.

And one time, I saw one. It was the most amazing thing. Tide was out. Long, mud flat, you know.

And he had come up to that mud flat, and he’d lay on his side like that and flip one flipper and scoot along there, 'cause that’s where the fish are. Scooping up fish. It was -- Then he’d do it again. It was the cutest thing I ever saw.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: That’s wonderful. So is Jeff Skrade still around?

JOANNE NELSON: Yes. He’s the superintendent at the cannery down here.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Oh, okay. At Icicle? JOANNE NELSON: No, Peter Pan Seafood.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Alright, okay. Got it. Yeah. Mm. That’s interesting. In terms of that sort of -- that sort of management, is it -- is it useful? I mean, do -- do you feel like it’s -- what are they basing off of it? Is it science? Is it just like conjecture, their own ideas?

JOANNE NELSON: No, no, it’s through all the years of experience. Trial and error. And I think they've got a wonderful system going.

Tom Sands, he’s the man now, the head of the -- the area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And he makes the decisions on when to open, how long a period to open for. Based on what his test boat fisherman is telling him.

And probably, I’m sure that someone like down in Ekuk, somebody’ll radio and say, “Hey, Tom, there’s a big run going by here. There're jumpers all over the place.” You know.

So -- so, anyway, he makes the decision. And whatever decision he makes, he will always get a rash of complaints. He’ll always --

And there’ll be those bold ones that actually go up to the office and yell at him. Yeah, it’s a tough job. Tough job.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Do you think he -- does he do well with it? Is it -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: I think he does, because when I hear some of the complaints, and that I went up there and he never did that thing about -- You know, shows me that what he -- when he makes up his mind, he is not swayed by people yelling at him.

He -- he makes his mind -- up his mind, based on science, and he sticks to it. And -- and he’s not always right.

Now, I don't like it when they let boats go up into the Wood River.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: The drift boats, or all of them?

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah, 32-foot gill-netters. Well, it’s because of erosion. I mean, they’re up there. They’re churning up those waters, and changing the banks, and probably sometimes changing the channels, and destroying other things that -- you know, even plants breaking away the banks.

and yeah, I’m not in favor of that. And they feel it’s necessary because they don’t want the lake overloaded with returning salmon, or else, when the -- if there're -- too many go up, then when the babies hatch, there’s not enough food to feed 'em. There might be a starvation situation.

Yeah. So, I know that -- I know why they do it. It’s based on science. But, oh, I think of the river and what they’re doing to it.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Hm mm, yeah. The Wood River fishery.

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah. We went up there -- now, that’s a pretty calm river, mostly calm. It’s short and narrow.

And one time, we were -- they were gonna have an opening up there, so we said, “Well, let’s take the skiff, and let’s go up there and see what goes on, you know.”

So we go up there and launch, and then head up. But the lower line is just above, just by the island there. So we --

And, boy, once you got up in there, where those boats -- it was like the high seas. I mean, waves and waves. Churning water.

Our son had a jet ski, and he decided he would -- Boy, when we looked back and saw him coming, and he was like -- here’s a wave, chuk. And here’s a wave, chuk. I mean, he was just flying, just touching the tops of the waves. It was so rough.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Wow. In the Wood, too, 'cause it’s just like it’s so calm.

JOANNE NELSON: Yes, it’s a calm river.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: That's interesting. So do you think that with the sort of management that they have now in place, what do you think the future in this area will look like?

JOANNE NELSON: Bright. Yeah, I think they’re doing a good job. I think the runs are healthy. I’m totally pleased.

Yes, I feel very good about the future of Bristol Bay, without that dark cloud looming way up there. Now, that’s still a scary situation.

And I’m in touch with a guy. He lived in New York for a long time, and he’s been here. He made a couple of movies. Lemme see. “Caught in Bristol Bay.” Have you seen that one?

LEXI TUDDENHAM: “Caught in Bristol Bay.”

JOANNE NELSON: And it was his first one. Donald Blank is his name. And then, he came up and he made the video “Making Waves.” It dealt with women in the fishery, women captains.

And then, he came up and he did a third one. It was called “The Reds and the Blues.” And it meant the red salmon and the blues, because of the fish -- the price that was being paid for 'em. Yeah, “The Reds and the Blues.”

And he’s been wanting to come up again. He’s moved to New Orleans now, but he still wants to come up because he wants to do a documentary about interviewing the people about Pebble. He wants to follow the Pebble issue.

But he hasn’t gotten anyone to -- he has to get funding, you know. And even BBNC has not been interested in funding him. I’d like to see him do it. But so far, it hasn’t happened.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: So with what's -- all that’s happened in the past year, you said you went to that meeting with Gina McCarthy and so on. Do you think people, in general, feel like Pebble is on hold, or are they still as worried about it as they were before?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, they’re watching it closely, of course. But with -- Who pulled out? Northern Dynasty and Anglo-American.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Rio Tinto and --

JOANNE NELSON: Rio Tinto and Northern Dynasty’s still there. I mean, they are the guy. And this Donald Blank that I mentioned, he emails me every once in a while, cause he keeps track. And he says --

Well, his take on it is, as long as the gold and copper stay low, and that Northern Dynasty doesn’t find any takers, that we don’t have to worry, but to never let down our guard.

And he said that Northern Dynasty’s stocks, now, are down, way down. And as long as their -- the price of their stock is way down, no other big company’s gonna wanna come in and join them, 'cause they want a nice -- they wanna join an organization that's nice and healthy, and has good stock.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right, yeah. Have there been other mines that have been proposed in the past, that seemed -- JOANNE NELSON: Not here.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: -- like a threat, the way this one is?

JOANNE NELSON: No. No, not that I have ever heard of. The hydroelectric project at -- Well, I call it Allen River because that’s the name of the little river, but that’s not what they call it.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Oh, is that the Chikuminuk?

JOANNE NELSON: Minchumina. There you are. You got it, yeah. Minchumina is the lake, and then Allen River -- So, what’s the name of the project?

LEXI TUDDENHAM: I think I’ve heard it called the Chikuminuk -- JOANNE NELSON: There you are. LEXI TUDDENHAM: -- hydro project, yeah.

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah, that is. And how I felt about that was that I was -- I was totally amazed that they would consider building a hydroelectric dam that far away from everyone and everything. And what -- what in the world kind of ecological damage would they create trying to put towers from there to where? To Naknek, to Iliamna, to Dillingham?

I mean, where are they gonna send that electricity? And what in the world would be the cost and, like I said, the ecological damage? I don't -- I think that’s not a good idea. No.

And there was a man here, he worked at the university -- I believe his name was George Wilson. He had lived in, I believe it was Kotzebue. Where is the mine up there?


JOANNE NELSON: Red Dog. There you are. And he said that he was there in the beginning, when the mine company came in and painted the big picture, and how everybody would have money and jobs and new houses and all the fine stuff.

And he really was just excited for the people there. Made a lot of friends. You know, people of his heart. He left, and he went back Outside. I think he went to Montana somewhere. And wherever he was, he was gone for quite a while. And then, he took a job with the campus down here, Bristol Bay campus.

And since he’s coming back up this way, he was more than anxious to go up to Kotzebue and see the beautiful new Kotzebue that had been promised. And he said he went up there, and it was disastrous. The river was polluted. The terrain was torn up. The local people didn’t get the jobs.

There was absolutely no improvement in the lifestyle of those people. In fact, a downgrade. And he said, boy, he --

So, he was gonna work hard here to make sure -- he was gonna bring that as an example, and let everybody here know what happened there, and tell them, you know, this is what’s gonna happen at Nondalton and Iliamna and Newhalen. Unfortunately, he developed cancer and passed away before he was able.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: That’s too bad. Has there been anyone else who’s gone up to look at that and sort of come back and said --

JOANNE NELSON: Red Dog? I don't know. Nobody I know that was there before it happened, and then see it after it happened, so they could do the comparison and then bring back the information and say.

But BBNC, you know, board of directors, they have been flown -- BBNC has flown them to Montana, for sure, and somewhere else, so that they could see for themselves the results of the kind of mining stuff that’s being proposed.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah. So, one thing that we’ve come across a lot is -- so, you know, with your involvement in the fishery and around this area, have you seen a lot of sort of factions, a lot of different groups? Either split up or coming together over some of these issues, whether they’re fisheries issues -- 'cause there’s obviously like some divides there and -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, of course, the Pebble project has torn families apart, and torn communities apart, and factions.

The Lake and Pen people, a lot of 'em down that side were all for it. As if Dillingham and Naknek didn’t have enough. I don't know how that started.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yeah. So what -- what are the existing divisions, even before Pebble?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, I’ll say that, way back when, my son, he’s in his 50s, he was a high school student. He was on the local basketball team. Naknek was a very small town, but they had a school, and they formed a basketball team.

And mostly, they came over and played our boys, and our boys went and played them. They didn’t do much traveling those days.

And when the Bristol Bay Angels first came to Dillingham, we were so excited that they had a team. And we just welcomed them with open arms. And at the games, what was noticeable was, that if an Angel made a basket, the crowd cheered just as loud as if a Dillingham -- And like, we loved those kids.

Well, when our team traveled over there, and some of the parents, you know, went along, those people over there, they booed our kids. They yelled at the refs. They called a good play for our kids.

And a couple of the women even got into a fight in the -- in the grandstand. And I hear one of 'em’s earring got ripped out of her ear. I mean, you know. And so, of course, that --

Everything was small then. Like the population here must’ve been maybe 500, 600 maybe, and smaller over there. And so, everybody knew everybody.

And the Krause family that lived here, one of the women that got in a fight from that side, she had married someone over there. So, yeah, so -- so that started a long time ago.

And then, the fact that transportation between here and there was not easy, because even when Penair came along, they went Anchorage and back, or they went King Salmon and back. And there was not much.

At one time, they did have a regular scheduled flight between King Salmon and Dillingham, but they didn’t have enough business 'cause people don’t travel between, you know, Naknek-Dillingham. They travel to Anchorage and back or Anchorage and back.

And so, there’s never been an opportunity, really, to get a real closeness.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Huh. Do you know what the roots of that division were? Is it just -- is it like -- Is it sort of -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: I blame it on -- I blame it on basketball.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: That’s a good enough reason. Is it demographically very different over there? Is it, you know -- Are people more rich, less rich, more -- more different ethnic groups?

JOANNE NELSON: Oh, shucks, I just don't know. I just don't know. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Huh. Interesting, yeah. JOANNE NELSON: Yeah, I really don't know.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: And was -- did -- was what you saw mainly between Dillingham and Naknek, or were there other divisions around the bay?

JOANNE NELSON: Dillingham and Naknek, yeah. Yeah, I don't see that between any other village and Dillingham.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Hm, mm. Yeah, that’s interesting. Has that changed at all, with Pebble, or has it -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: I don't know. Oh, no. It didn’t change with Pebble, because on that side of the bay, those people were for Pebble. They -- they were proponents.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Well, I guess, if -- kind of a final question is a couple of things.

So, number one, if you could go back to a big issue, a resource issue in the past that you may have seen, whether it’s like, you know, that changeover into the -- the resource management by ADF&G, or whatever it might be, and tell yourself, or maybe young people, something that you’ve learned, what -- what would it be? From that experience?

JOANNE NELSON: Well. Well, I think that what I’d say was trust the Alaska Department of Fish and Game because, you know, you can holler all you want to about what things look like to you, but they base their decisions on science, not just gut instinct.

So, I -- I think that’s one thing because it took people forever to accept the changes that Mike Nelson was making in the way the fishery was run here. And only after many years of him -- he -- he was here for a good 20 years or more.

And only toward the later years did people start saying, "Uh, yeah." You know, showing him respect and saying, “Yeah, you did a good job,” and, you know, that sort of thing.

And then, he kind of groomed Jeff Skrade for the position. And Jeff stepped right in and followed in Mike’s footsteps. Yeah.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: And Jeff Skrade is still down there. Is that correct?

JOANNE NELSON: Yep. But, however, he doesn’t work ADF&G anymore. He works Peter Pan Seafoods.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Right. And so if you were -- if you were telling younger people in this area, who are trying to address fisheries or other resource issues, something, is that it? Or would there be other things?

JOANNE NELSON: I would, yeah. I would tell them to trust them. Well, really, I would tell 'em to obey the US Fish and Wildlife’s regulations. You know, just let them do --

Let them set the rules, and follow them, because nobody’s gonna starve on the rules that they’ve made.

Everybody’s still gonna get enough fish, and it’ll preserve the fishery. People are still gonna get their moose, their caribou.

They’ve had a ban on caribou hunting for quite a while, well, 'cause there’s none in this area. They’ve kind of moved out.

And people have blamed the caribous’ new routes on Pebble. I think that’s a stretch.

Like -- like George used to say that the caribou, you know, they put their nose into the wind, and they walk. And -- and wherever they end up, that’s where they end up, as long as there’s food.

I haven’t seen a caribou around here in several years. However, I remember a time, not too long ago. I was still working. Well, I’d retired in 2003, so it’s been a while, I guess.

He came down to the job at 10:00 and said -- I worked just 'til noon. And he says that across the river, there are so many caribou that they’re just streaming down over that bluff, and going up the other side of the river. And constant, he said, constant.

And I said, “Oh, I wish I could see that.” And at noon, when he came and picked me up, we went straight up there. Two hours later, they were still streaming down over there, and up. There was more coming. It was a huge, huge herd.

And binoculars we had then. And there were wolves -- wolves were running along, hoping for an injured one or maybe a calf. Yeah, yeah, it was exciting.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: So why aren’t there caribou here now? It's -- it's just --

JOANNE NELSON: They seem to go up toward the -- well, you wouldn’t know the -- above Koliganek. Yeah. Ekwok. No, maybe Stuyahok and Koliganek seem to be --

We have a grandson-in-law that, he’ll travel, you know, wherever he needs to go, Iliamna area, to hunt caribou. But they seem to be passing up that way. Except there is a resident herd on the Nushagak Peninsula that were planted. Would you call it planted?


JOANNE NELSON: They brought 'em there. And -- and they -- they just seem to hang down there. They don’t travel away, like the others.

And they do have an open hunt on those. But the terrain is rough to get there, and two rivers to cross, and --

LEXI TUDDENHAM: That’s hard to get around.

JOANNE NELSON: And limited. Yeah. Very limited. And then George and I are old enough that our grandson-in-law can get a proxy for us. And he -- and he'll sometimes go get us caribou.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Oh, so a proxy permit? Like subsistence or -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: Hm mm. Yeah. Yeah. It’s filled out. He has to sign papers. And it’s for a certain area, certain opening.

And if he gets one for us, then that’s good. He tags it, and that's -- he’s got his paperwork. But if he doesn’t get one for us, then the paperwork goes in the trash and we try again next year.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: So, as a -- as a long-time resident, do you automatically get a permit for -- for harvest or -- ?

JOANNE NELSON: You can have it. Yeah, you can. George and I have -- I mean, it’s not mailed to you. You have to go down and apply, but you get it. It’s never denied. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Do you have to pay for it?

JOANNE NELSON: George and I don’t have to pay anything. I don't think anybody pays anything for subsistence, ever.

But even the big game hunts, you know, we don’t pay because he has two cards in his wallets: one’s his and one’s mine. And they are lifetime hunting permits. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Oh, wow. That's neat.

JOANNE NELSON: Yeah, when you get a certain age -- George and I, in February, we both had a birthday, and we both turned 79. LEXI TUDDENHAM: Oh, wow.

JOANNE NELSON: And we’re looking forward to the great 8-0.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Yay. It’ll be a good year.

So, one final question. So, there are people who say that coastal Alaska is -- is at risk, or is vulnerable, in light of the economic and environmental changes that seem to be, perhaps, coming. So do you think that’s true?

And what does or does this not capture about your experience and your -- your ideas about this area, and the future of this area?

JOANNE NELSON: Well, there is a couple of things. One is, you know, the -- the world goes on. The earth goes on. The tides come in. The tides go out. They wash away some banks. They pile the sediment in another place. Constantly changing.

And so to preserve their interest in the land, Bristol Alliance Fuels built a steel bulkhead. The harbor, to preserve the south end, they’ve built a steel bulkhead.

The city’s dock there, they built a steel bulkhead. And then, they extended it clear on up because the houses on top of the bluff were -- (phone rings) but those houses have been falling over for years, you know. That’s part of it.

Now that they’ve done that, they’ve changed the whole water --

So anyway, what we’ve noticed since they did that is that the beach above Bristol Alliance, where we used to do a lot of subsistence fishing, and it used to be gravel, well it’s all mud. Just below there, between there and the harbor, it’s all mud, and extended way out.

You know, there's just -- Building those things has changed the current enough that the -- it’s just filling in with silt. And I don't know, I think that they should just let nature do their thing. And we adapt to it, not -- not change it.

LEXI TUDDENHAM: Well, thank you so much, Joanne. It’s been really fun to talk to you.