Hook, Line and Sinker

Alaska Seafood

Hook, Line and Sinker

Linda Behnken

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association

Can you tell me a bit about your background – location, job, family?

I live in Sitka with my spouse and our two teenage boys.  I am originally from Connecticut.

What made you become a fisherman?

I have always loved the ocean, loved working outdoors, and the fishing community completely claimed my heart during my first summer in Alaska.

Do you work for yourself? If so – can you tell us why you set up your own business?

Yes, I bought my own boat in 1991. I had to borrow money to buy the boat but was able to pay it off over a few years of hard fishing. My husband and I now own a boat together.

Can you describe a typical day out on the water? Hours?

When we are fishing we work from about 4 am until 10 pm.  All our fishing is hook and line.  When we are long lining, there is always baiting to do between sets or while some of the gear is in the water.  Baiting for halibut takes 1-2 hours; then the gear is set in for about an hour and left to “soak” for 4-6 hours; baiting for sablefish takes us four to five hours and the sets are longer.  We leave the sets to soak overnight.  Hauling a halibut set back takes us 3-4 hours; our sablefish sets take longer to haul. Sablefish live almost a mile deep in the ocean so just hauling the buoy line on each end of the set takes about an hour. Cleaning halibut is hard work because the fish are big and heavy (up to 200 pounds); sablefish are easier. All fish are carefully iced after cleaning to maintain peak quality. A day of trolling is different. The gear is pulled behind the boat (again, hooks, not nets) and as salmon bite we run the gear and play the fish in one at a time. Each is carefully cleaned and iced to maintain quality.

During the summer season when you are constantly out on the water, how do you balance the pressures and demands of work with raising a family?

My family is with me, which is fun but can also be challenging when everyone is overtired.  Keeping up with my town work— running the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association— can be very hard during the summer season.  Because I work with amazing people at ALFA who cover for me, we make it work.

How do you manage with the different seasonal demands? What do you do throughout the winter period?

I am up to my ears in fisheries management and policy development in the winter. There is always boat work and gear work to do at all times of the year, but these days my spouse tackles most of that since my work keeps me so busy.

What do you love about the job?

I love being on the ocean and working around whales, porpoise, and the wilderness. I love the independence, the challenge and hard work, and the satisfaction of bringing in a load of beautiful, well cared for and high quality fish. I love working as a team with my family and being part of a community of fishermen who choose this way of life. An 8am-5pm office job would feel like a life sentence.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Initially some skippers were hesitant to hire women because they did not think they would be strong or tough enough. Others knew their wives would object. Changing that mindset was challenging, but once you prove what you can do work travels fast in the fishing community. Once I was competent as crew, the biggest challenge was building the confidence to take on my own boat and believe I could handle the inevitable crisis when something broke or an unexpected storm hit.

Has there ever been a time when you thought that you couldn’t cope as a woman in the fishing business?

No

Would you recommend it as a career choice for other women? What advice would you give?

Yes, it’s a great way of life. Be smart about how you work to avoid injury. Choose boats to work on carefully. If you buy your own boat, find a mentor (or mentors) and learn all you can from them, but know that you will have to learn most of what you need to know from experience, hard work, and mistakes.

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