Towing the Line and Feeding the Legacy
“This region is one of the last whole pristine clean waters that is left. Somehow it has survived…It’s an incredible place to live and I can’t imagine living anywhere else, ” explained Pete Andrew as he talked about Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea.
A resident of Dillingham, Alaska, Andrew is a commercial fisherman, corporate board member, local advocate, and the father of four children. He has been a commercial fisherman since the age of 16.
Raised in the remote village of New Stuyahok, Andrew came from a traditional Yup’ik family whose subsistence way of life revolved around the seasons and region’s abundant wild salmon. Yup’ik families survived on salmon. They also made their living from it.
In 1977, Andrew’s father, Pete Andrew Sr. made a bold move. A fisherman and former reindeer herder, he went to the local cannery and ordered a 22-foot Seymour skiff, nets, and an outboard for his son who was away at boarding school in Dillingham. When Andrew came home one weekend, he was informed about the boat and was told that the commercial fishing license was being put in Andrew’s name. Andrew recalled, “I argued with my dad… I felt that I didn’t have the faith in myself. My dad assured me that…I would learn.” In spite of the protests, Andrew was in business! In addition, he was given the bill for the skiff and was expected to cover his own expenses. He cleared about $2000 his first season.
Andrew has been fishing Nushagak Bay ever since. Located at the confluence of two rivers, the Bay is rich with sockeye salmon and provides a steady living for the Andrew family. During the summer salmon runs, Andrew steers his 32-foot boat, the Lucky Bear, through the pristine water, dropping nets and pulling sockeye. He explained, ”We try to go for absolute quality. At the end of an opening, we go and make deliveries to bigger boats. The fish are pulled off in bags and they are weighed. I sign a ticket and the cannery pays me for whatever I delivered. “
Andrew and his wife, Rose Fisher, have three sons and a daughter. All of the boys were taught how to fish commercially and they all earned their own spending money while working on the family boat. Two of them are now pursuing degrees in engineering. Their daughter is the eldest of the four children and only recently has she become interested in the family fishing business. Although she now lives in the Lower 48, Kristina returned to Bristol Bay last summer and fished with her dad for the first time. Andrew was thrilled and explained, “When she was younger, she didn’t get into the fishing. She didn’t really like it. She went off to school. But last year she came up after years of being away and she fished with me on the boat…She really did well fishing. She picked it up like a duck to water.”
Fisher marvels at her husband’s life. In a telephone interview she said, “He was a very young man and went out into the Bay in an open skiff. It’s dangerous out there, but it was just what you did. Now, he’s one of Bristol Bay’s successful fishermen. He refers to the Bay as his office… There’s just something in his blood. It is living life to the fullest.”
By Melissa A. Trainer