“Have You Ever Met An Alaskan?”

Now, there’s a loaded question! Have you ever met an Alaskan? The first answer will obviously be “yes or no”. The more interesting question is the follow-up to a yes. What was the Alaskan like? That could probably bring out some very interesting responses.

I remember one Alaskan that I met. He had lived here most of his life, and maybe all of it. He had worked in commercial fishing. He had learned many other jobs throughout his long life to keep him busy between fishing seasons. Plus, when the fishing seasons were not very good, he would make money with his other talents and skills, including retail sales. He was one of many hard workers that I have met in this state.

Another Alaskan that I remember meeting when I first arrived in the state was also a commercial fisherman. He seemed very angry at the way the state had managed the salmon fishing industry. He, like many other commercial fishermen, had become set in his ways about “the system in place” to regulate who would fish on certain days. In Alaska, especially the Cook Inlet, every summer is a Salmon War. The commercial boats and setnetters want their catch. The sports fishermen in the rivers want their clients to be able to catch kings, sockeyes, and silvers. Then, the state has spent the passed few decades opening up the mouth of two major rivers in the Cook Inlet for something a person will only see in Alaska…….subsistence fishing with a dipnet.

What is subsistence fishing with a dipnet? It is where an Alaska resident, who has lived in the state for one year, wears wetgear up to his or her head. Then, that person will carry a large net that is tied onto the end of a metal stick(it basically looks like a really huge tennis racket with a sagging net). The large net on a stick has to be pushed out into the cold water along the sand from the beach until it is virtually under water. Then, this Alaskan resident will stand in the cold water until a salmon gets caught in the dipnet.

I remember hearing stories from the angry commercial fisherman about how he didn’t like giving up part of his catch to dipnetters. Commercial fishermen have to invest thousands of dollars every year into their operation that is usually family-owned. They can only fish during the summer months. So, their income is tied to the returning salmon. For some of them, without a decent summer catch it could be a long winter. But, these local fishermen going out in the small boats would always be accused by the dipnetters of driving too close making large waves, scaring the salmon away, or being allowed to fish too close to shore and taking the dipnetters’ salmon catch away with their bigger nets. This always made for interesting summers at the local coffee shops. Who should be allowed to fish near the mouth of the rivers, the commercial fishermen, the sports fishermen, or the dipnetters? “Here come the fishermen, guys, hide all of the sharp knives!”

On a friendlier note, another interesting Alaskan that I had the chance to meet over the years spent his time bringing Alaskans together, instead of dividing them. He worked with others to help remember all of those who paid the highest price for their country….the veterans. This local Alaskan, along with his collegues from past confrontations, made sure the public knew when and where every Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day celebration was going to take place. And, if anyone had a question about the celebrations, they knew who to call.

This is just a short list of the types of people who make up Alaska. They come from different places……with different dreams about the Last Frontier. When they leave the Last Frontier, their impact on the state stays here. They changed the state while they were here, because their actions motivated others…either in a positive or a negative way.