Have you ever considered spending the summer fishing in the wild waters of Alaska? That’s what Sierra Anderson does. And she loves it. Sierra fishes all summer long and then spends the rest of the year living in Breckenridge, Colorado and traveling to far-flung corners of the globe. That’s a pretty awesome life!
Luckily, AlaskaJobFinder was able to interview Sierra about her experience working in the alaskan fishing industry. It’s always cool to see what an experienced local has to say about this interesting and exciting industry!
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I grew up with a very transient lifestyle, hardly staying in one place long enough to complete a school year. Born and raised half my life in Alaska fishing, winters skiing in Breckenridge Colorado, and international travel in between. I entered SMU (Southern Methodist University) on a running scholarship and graduated with a Bachelors in Business. Following school I returned to commercial fishing to support my not-so-cheap hobbies including, traveling, filming, and skiing. I’ve since seen nearly 50 nations on 6 continents and continue the count after every fishing season.
How long have you been working in the commercial fishing industry?
I am a fourth generation fisherman and have been fishing with my dad since the dawn of time. I started running the skiff when I was 14, then took on full time skiff-woman two years ago. I’m ready to move out of the family nest though. Family fishing is probably one of the most challenging of settings to be in as a family.
Why did you choose to work in this industry?
Given that I was born into the industry, I think it chose me first. Being raised on boats made it all come very natural. The industry, the people, the lifestyle. It’s all a part of who I am and I love the seasonal lifestyle it allows me to live. It’s a very empowering feeling to constantly be pushing yourself to your limits and then be able to see the immediate reward. It’s a gamble that makes it all the more adventurous.
Can you describe a typical day on a fishing boat, if such a thing exists?
I’m not sure such a thing does exist…at least not on my boat. Everything is unpredictable including, the captain. Every day is a gamble so it’s always changing and also remains dependant on the time of the season. The fish pretty much dictate our schedule. If it’s good fish’n we will go nonstop, 22 hour days back to back. In that instance you become a machine. I call it controlled chaos. That’s boat life in a nut shell.
Tell us about your boat…
Our method of fishing is called purse seining. We have a large deep water net called a seine, that encircles the fish. Connected to the seine is a purse line that acts as a drawstring to enclose the catch. Salmon is our bread and butter and so the bulk of our annual income rests on 3 months of fishing during the summer months.
There are five different species of salmon that we catch. They are Chinook (King), Sockeye (red), Coho (silver), Chum (dog), and Humpie (pink). Our boat is named the Memry Anne, after my younger sister.
We have a total of 5 crew on the boat, two deckands, an engineer, a skiff operator and a captain.
Describe your role on the boat.
I am the skiff operator so my job is to drive and maintain the smaller boat that pulls the end of the net. I made this video to help explain to people what ‘purse seining’ is in a nut shell. Purse Seining Alaska:
What type of resume does someone need to land a job in Alaska’s fishing industry?
Honestly, a resume hardly means anything if you can’t be there to deliver it in person.
A captain wants to see your initiative, drive, and work ethic. Stroll the docks, hang out in these fishing towns and get to know these people. You don’t have to fly all the way to Alaska either. Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle is a prime spot for this, too.
Either way it’s best to be present. You might be turned down at first but enough persistence will land you the job.
Experience on the water, extensive camping experience, one who thrives on adventure, good work ethic, is coach-able and has a willingness to learn, are all positive traits. If you can cook, that’s a bonus. Remember you are a greenhorn and you have to earn your place just like any other job. Only difference in this work setting is your ‘co-workers’ are not your typical group of fellas. Thick skin and a sense of humor is a must.
Many people think that commercial fishing is a male dominated industry. Can you tell me about opportunities for women to work on fishing boats?
Woman are outnumbered by a long shot. Nonetheless they have been making a strong presence. Ever since woman started migrating into the industry back in the 70s it’s not been so foreign. I know of many women who even captain their own boats to whom I have a great respect and admiration for.
I wouldn’t recommend a women just hopping on any random boat. Do your homework. This applies to men, too.
My best advice for those who don’t already have leads in the industry is to start in the cannery or processing plants. My mother is a perfect example of that. Not knowing anyone and being from the midwest she backpacked up to Alaska and worked her way up into the industry, beginning in the cannery. This way you can start to get to know fishermen and people. It’s all about relationships and connections. Build them and it will happen. Then migrate your way to a tender and/or hopefully a fishing boat. It’s good to get your feet wet in the environment before you dive right into the heart of all the action.
Does being a woman make this job more challenging?
I know many captains who like having women because they are hard workers and have a strong attention to detail. Depending on the type of fishing you do sometimes mental strength is more important than the physical. But being physically strong is important too! No matter what though, as a woman you will be working twice as hard to earn the same respect as the men you work with. You just have to prepare yourself because you are walking into more of a chauvinistic mindset among the majority.
What is the single best thing about working on a fishing boat? And the worst thing?
Money of course. Making your annual income in a matter of 3 months is awesome, right?! The worst is when the money part starts to not matter. That only happens when you are losing it emotionally.Eventually it comes down to mental toughness. After a while of fishing sometimes the best can quickly turn worst. The worst thing is the isolation of it. What once felt like total freedom turns into solitary confinement. No Internet, phones, or contact with the outside world. It’s just you and your shipmates.
Are there any misconceptions about commercial fishing that you’d like to clear up for people?
The biggest one is, you are going to make a lot of money. Not always true. This is a gamble. I’ve made money and I’ve lost money fishing. Second biggest one, that it’s not boring. Ha! It can be so boring you want to jump overboard or push someone else overboard…which has happened to me. You can go very stir crazy.
Would you recommend a job in commercial fishing? Why or why not?
It really depends on who I am talking to. Fishing in Alaska is a great living but it’s certainly not for everybody. Lets face it, money is a big motivator but if it’s the only thing, you probably won’t survive. You have to be pretty strong emotionally and physically to make it to the end. If you go into it with an open mind and good attitude ready for anything, you will walk away with a better understanding of your self and a great story to tell for years to come. After all, it’s in the adventures of life experiences that we succeed in finding ourselves.
What advice do you have for people who want to enter this industry?
My advice is go after it! This isn’t something you Google, apply for online or send your resume in. You go, do, and be. Go to where the fishermen are. Put your self out there. Yes, it’s a risk. But if you aren’t comfortable with taking that risk, then you will not be comfortable fishing. It’s risky business no matter how you look at it but in the end it is well worth it.
What’s the best way to get a job in the Alaskan fishing industry?
My best advise to those interested in breaking into the industry is to learn from those who did it themselves.
When you’re not fishing, what’s your status?
I SKI! It is my first love. Winters are the greatest for that reason. I return to my mountains in Colorado and ski in my hometown of Breckenridge. Aside from that I film. I love the transient lifestyle it provides. I can take my camera everywhere I go. Life is a story and I want to tell it. So I started my own production company and have been slowly growing that business on the side.
Your life would be a great TV show. Have you ever considered making a reality show about your life?
Ha, yeah I more than thought about it, I actually came up with the idea for what became Hook Line & Sisters on TLC. It’s funny you ask because whenever I tell people about my life and what I do, they always say those exact words. I guess that was a big part of my motivation in taking it to that level. I wanted to tell my story. I wanted to explain to those closest to me who knew nothing about my life as a commercial fisherman what it takes to get salmon to their plate.
I was inspired when I was documenting my travels. I decided next to document my story of commercial fishing so that I could better explain to friends and family what this life looked like. So I bought my first ‘nice’ camera, the canon 5D, and documented everything. Long story short, once I accumulated enough footage to gather a concept, I was ready to pitch and eventually scored a contract with Discovery Communications. So technically I did have a reality show, called Hook Line & Sisters, which aired at prime time on TLC. Unfortunately the season was cut short and the future of the show is still yet to be determined.
Where can AlaskaJobFinder users learn more about you? Do you have a website?
Anything else you want to share about your exciting life?
I document life as it comes, most of my adventures can be found on my website www.sierraanderson.net. I’ll be traveling to Europe and Africa this spring and hopefully competing in some competitions as well. So I’m anticipating some more ‘exciting’ adventures to document in the near future.
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