At Home on the Ocean

Tele Aadsen of Sitka, Alaska has been fishing since she was 7 years old. Now, she and her partner, Joel, wade through policy changes and market fluctuations to keep fishing.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the book Food Voices: Stories From the People Who Feed Us . In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. WhyHunger is featuring highlights of these stories, gathered from 70 interviews on a journey that spanned from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond.

Tele of Sitka, Alaska, first started fishing on her parents’ boat when she was 7 years old. For the past five years, she and her partner, Joel, have fished cooperatively on their 43-foot troller, F/V Nerka (the Latin name for sockeye salmon). They find local markets for their wild Alaskan salmon. Despite market fluctuations and policy changes, she hopes she can continue fishing for years to come.


“In some ways, there has been a tremendous amount of advocacy for the benefits of wild salmon. In the mid-90s, there was less of that and people were happy to buy farmed salmon, so in that regard it is better now. In the past couple years, on the other hand, people can’t afford to buy salmon. My partner’s dad markets our fish to co-ops and higher-end restaurants. But many of them have significantly cut their orders, and that is a frightening thing. That is one of the biggest conflicts. You have this superior product – it is the best food you can provide for people – and you weigh that against the price to go fishing. So, what price do you set your fish to be able to go fishing but also have the price set so people can afford it? If I weren’t fishing, I would not be able to afford fish. That is something I struggle with. So, I look at ways where we can make enough and also donate to wheels programs and homeless kids in Seattle – people who would never otherwise have salmon. It is a small thing, but it is important.

“With salmon, fishermen have done a good job in getting active with policies and the allocation of the quota. As the west coast fishery is going through such decline, it is hard to believe the abundance of salmon up here. It is hard to explain the self-governance and monitoring that happens in Alaska to protect the stocks. There are individual fishing quotas for halibut, and we had to make a choice between affording a house or a halibut permit. We chose a house. There is a bolt of terror that [individual fishing quotas] may come our way for salmon and we won’t be able to afford to keep fishing.


“We are mindful of what we take out of the ocean and we are conscious of it. We are grateful for every fish and take time and care to make sure this fish gets somewhere it is appreciated. I feel more of myself on the ocean than anywhere else. I feel at home on the ocean. I can’t wait to be out on the sea. It is when I get to go home. Every spring I look forward to going home. How else can I get that same feeling of living seasonally, being connected to the environment? It is not just being out in a boat on the water. It is very much about the work. We put such intense demands on our bodies and our endurance all the while in the most stunning ‘office’ imaginable. For as much as I don’t like killing for a living, I can’t give this up.”

Updated 12/23/2010