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I N F O R M E D F I S H E R M E N • P R O F I TA B L E F I S H E R I E S • S U S TA I N A B L E F I S H
Committed to their industry
John F. Gruver,
Puyallup, Wash.
Kathy Hansen,
Douglas, Alaska
Jeremiah O’Brien,
Morro Bay, Calif.
Tar heels reel back
association chief
Meet us
in Seattle
John Gruver’s work for
United Catcher Boats
has helped significantly
reduce king salmon
bycatch in the Bering
Sea pollock fleet.
Elyse Hearns
2015 Highliners
Fleet fulcrum
By Sierra Golden
t’s hard to have a conversation about John Gruver’s work without someone immediately touting some version of this aphorism: “The fisherman of the future
will be judged as much by what he doesn’t catch as by what he does catch.” It’s
Gruver’s mantra, and in many ways it exemplifies his 40-year career as a visionary leader in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. Before anyone else, Gruver looked for
effective, creative and sustainable ways to reduce bycatch in the pollock fishery and
ensure that it stayed economically viable.
“I really tried to create awareness [around bycatch issues] because I felt like they
could be hot button political issues down the road,” Gruver says. “And they were.
And they are.”
Gruver first fished in 1974 onboard the seiner Bessie B in Southeast Alaska to pay
for college. After just a couple summers fishing though, Gruver realized he liked it,
GRUVER, continued on page 26
Southeast stabilizer
By Charlie Ess
sking Kathy Hansen to make the correlation
between the name of her first boat, the Steadfast and her character as a fisherman and industry leader is to ask for a lesson in humility.
Hansen, 55, of Douglas, Alaska, quickly defers to her husband, Ed, as an equal counterpart in all of her endeavors,
on the water and off, but admits that she knows when to
step up and lead.
“It’s all totally ‘we,’” she says of Ed’s involvement with
every facet of her life. And she’s equally quick to point out
that an air of objectivity and respect for other points of
view go a long way in the evolution of fisheries.
Hansen is executive director and founder of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance — a multigear, multispecies industry association that represents more than 300
members — in 2000. When she’s not answering phones,
cranking out memos and emails to various state and federal governmental agencies in advocacy of fishermen or
the fish they catch — being voice for many via to the
Alaska Board of Fisheries, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, International Pacific Halibut Commission
and United Fisherman of Alaska, to name just a few —
HANSEN, continued on page 28
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Harbor hero
By Nick Rahaim
n the late 1970s, Jeremiah O’Brien left New England to chase snow in the American West. He landed in Morro Bay, Calif., in 1980. Life as a ski bum
left him with little reserves, so he headed to the
docks and landed a fishing job.
“The fishing life hooked me,” said O’Brien, now 68,
just after returning from a few months of chasing albacore tuna up the Pacific Coast into Canadian waters. “I
guess you can say the rest is history.”
Over the past 35 years, O’Brien has fished everything
from shark and sea bass to halibut and swordfish along
with diving for abalone and urchins.
“I was lucky to have worked with some very good
fishermen early on,” O’Brien said. “I learned a lot from
His current boat is the 48.8-foot Aguero, powered by
a supercharged V-6 Detroit Diesel Series 71. The steel
Monk-designed Aguero was built in Fort Bragg in 1972,
and O’Brien purchased it in 1997. Since he bought the
O’BRIEN, continued on page 30
Lorrin French
Jeremiah O’Brien has fished
many West Coast species
and gear types out of Morro
Bay, Calif., and led his local
association for 10 years.
Ed Hansen
Kathy Hansen has fished in many
fisheries over four decades,
including trolling for kings on the
Ocean Gold. She also advocates
for hundreds of fishermen
through the Southeast Alaska
Fishermen’s Alliance.
John Gruver helped to develop the salmon
excluder that provides up to 50 percent king
salmon escapement.
time and is now the
and he began “fishing more and going norm.” It was also
to school less.” To scratch the itch, he the first of many
bought a Puget Sound gillnetter in 1979. occasions in which
The venture was a bust, but it taught Gruver would foreGruver an important lesson that would see and advocate
guide him well later in life: Fishing is for the sustainable
about much more
than catching fish.
Though Gruver
Gruver was the
enjoyed fishing in
first fisherman I
and Puget Sound,
recall to advocate
bigger seas called
him, and in 1981 he
for management
fished his first seafuture of his
son for pollock, cod
fishery. Given
measures that gave
and crab in Shelikof
Strait. Gruver says
physical work
fishermen the authority of pollock
he struggled for a
year or so when he
and the
and tools to co-manage fishing
began these new
complexity of
fisheries, but evencreating new
their fishery.
tually he found the
regulations, it’s
— Brent Paine, hard to believe
perfect fit: the Sea
Wolf, a 123-foot
UNITED CATCHER BOATS that he purMarco crabber consued this adverted into a trawler for pollock fishing. vocacy work while also running the Sea
Gruver started on deck but worked his Wolf.
way to the wheelhouse in 1986 and part
Gruver, though, was always thinking
ownership in 1987.
beyond himself.“While many of the boat
Gruver’s strong leadership skills were owners were focusing on their individual
evident in the way he fished. Fellow fishing operations, Gruver worked on
fishermen describe him as “extremely the development of fleet-wide voluntary
competitive,” and 2009 Highliner Award programs to help all the boat owners and
winner Kevin Ganley calls him “a cham- captains and crew,” Paine says. In 1993
pion to fish around.” But Gruver didn’t Gruver became the founding president
forget the lesson he learned a few years of United Catcher Boats, the not-forearlier. As a smart boat owner he also got profit trade association that represents
involved with fishery politics.
the interests of catcher vessels participatBrent Paine, executive director of ing in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands,
United Catcher Boats, recalls Gruver’s Gulf of Alaska and West Coast trawl fishearly work off the boat: “Gruver was the eries.
first fisherman I recall to advocate for
Gruver fished and pursued policy
management measures that gave fish- work until 1999 when the American
ermen the authority and tools to co- Fisheries Act was implemented, and
manage their fishery… This was a major the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands poldeparture in fisheries management at the lock catcher-vessels formed a cooperative management organization. Gruver
stopped fishing, and UCB hired him as
their Catcher-Vessel Intercooperative
Manager. Gruver thought his work there
would last a few years before it became
automatic. Instead, the bycatch issues he
had predicted would become hot-button
GRUVER, continued from page 24
John Gruver
Gruver at the helm of the Sea Wolf before
he left fishing to devote his full attention
to his work at United Catcher Boats.
Brent Paine
topics became more important. Gruver has stayed in the same position with
UCB for 15 years continuing his work,
mostly on bycatch issues. Almost all of
Gruver’s programs required 100 percent
consensus to be instituted, and it’s impressive to note that Gruver was the vanguard who fostered cooperation among
the highly competitive pollock fleet.
Another of the new Highliner’s impressive achievements is designing and
developing the current salmon excluder
device that is required on all Bering Sea
pollock midwater nets. John Gauvin, an
independent scientist who helped Gruver develop the excluder, calls Gruver’s
idea for the device “unprecedented.” Today, it achieves up to 50 percent escapement for salmon and as little as 1 percent
pollock escapement. The project owes its
success to Gruver’s hours of AutoCAD
— so many that he has been accused of
getting a suntan from his computer —
countless trips to St. John’s, Newfoundland, to test model nets in a flume tank,
and Gruver’s particular ability to draw
pollock fishermen, gear manufacturers,
flume tank engineers and even a few
NGOs into the endeavor.
For many it may seem that Gruver’s
greatest strength is his visionary sense of
the future — the whisper in his ear that
told him how fishermen will be judged
— but looking deeply at his work, shows
that he’s been gifted with not only the
ability to envision the future, but also
the uncanny skill of drawing people into
that vision. As Gauvin says of the salmon
excluder, “None of this would have occurred without John [Gruver]’s tireless
commitment to make things work, his
expertise, and particularly his ability to
bring people into the effort.”
For updated news, visit
Board of Fisheries meeting in Juneau.
“I learned a lot by going to one
meeting,” she says. She had come to
represent gillnetters on a particular
issue, but became enamored with information provided to the board from
opposing groups. “Every story has
many sides,”
she says. “So
you need to
other side of
the issue.”
“Kathy’s a fantastic advocate for the
industry. She’s solid, and she’s able to
stand her ground politely,” says Linda
Behnken, executive director of the
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in Sitka. Behnken was also a 2009
Highliner Award winner. “She’s a great
team player.”
Hansen was an instrumental voice as the halibut allocation battle heated up in 2005.
“It was actually worked
on way before 2005,” says
Hansen. “It was a reconsideration by the council
of a package that they had
voted on back in 20022003. But in 2007, the
proposed rule got thrown
Signing in at the governor’s
out; so we started all
mansion with members of the
United Fishermen of Alaska.
At the time, the Han-
HANSEN, continued from page 25
United Fishermen of Alaska
you can find her with Ed, drift gillnetting for salmon aboard the Ocean Gold.
Hansen was born in Baton Rouge,
La., but grew up in Washington’s San
Juan Islands when her parents moved
northwest in 1970. There she met Ed,
a salmon reef netter and gillnetter. The
couple married in 1979, and Ed drew
her into the fishing lifestyle. Tighter
restrictions on Washington fishermen
as a result of the Boldt decision led the
couple to load their belongings on the
Collecting Dungeness crabs in
Stephens Passage, Southeast Alaska.
“It’s what’s best for
the resource, always,
but also what works
best for the most
36-foot Steadfast and move north to
Alaska in 1985 with their 1-1/2-yearold son.
“We upgraded from a wood boat
when we bought the Ocean Gold in
1988,” Kathy says. “We’ve been in
and out of a lot of fisheries through
the years.”
The couple has longlined for cod,
halibut and rockfish, pulled pots for
Dungeness crab, and trolled and gillnetted salmon. At the same time that
Hansen accrued savvy on deck, she
cultivated an interest in the management of fisheries in the guise of sustaining the resources and maximizing
the greatest number of users.
A turning point for her came at a
sens owned a substantial amount
of halibut longline IFQ shares, and
the couple opted to sell those out.
“When I started getting deep
into the halibut charter issues, we
actually sold our shares so that I
could be objective.”
You have to press Hansen hard
to find hurdles that would keep her
from continuing her steadfast role
in improving the health of the fisheries and the people whose livelihoods
they sustain.
“Character attacks are the hardest,” she says of challenges that have
threatened her tenacity. “Sometimes
you just want to throw your hands up
in the air, but then you’ll get this nice
little note... It’s the simple thank yous
that keep you moving forward,” she
Ed Hansen
Ed Hansen
Gillnetting on the
Ocean Gold.
— Kathy Hansen
While some might argue that an
empathetic approach to all sides of an
issue in the board’s regulatory process
is in essence caving in, Hansen’s objectivity won her seats on panels taking
on some of Alaska’s most surly allocation issues.
“It’s what’s best for the resource, always,” she says, “but also what works
best for the most people.”
For updated news, visit
“When you think
O’BRIEN, continued from page 25
about fishing in Morro
Bay, then the next two
words that come to
mind are ‘Jeremiah
— Andrea Lueker,
Morro Bay, Calif.
Swordfishing off
Morro Bay in 2005.
“When you think about fishing in
Morro Bay, then the next two words
that come to mind are ‘Jeremiah
O’Brien,’” said Andrea Lueker, a
Morro Bay resident who has known
O’Brien for years. “He’s not only in-
Jose Cesena
boat he has gillnetted for swordfish and
shark, including 14 years with his wife,
Trudy, as a fishing partner. But he currently sticks to trolling for albacore in
the summer, having battled cancer a
few times in recent years.
“I’m very happy to do what I’m
doing,” O’Brien says with a lingering
Massachusetts brogue. “Both fishing
and in the community.”
O’Brien has been instrumental in the
fishing community around the central
coast of California and beyond. He
weathered the lean year of fishing in
Morro Bay in the late-1990s and early 2000s, when all processors either
closed up shop or left town. He was
also at the helm of the Morro Bay
Commercial Fishermen’s Organization for a decade from the lows to the
fleet’s resurgence in the late-aughts.
O’Brien stepped down as president of
the organization in 2012, but currently
serves as a director.
volved in the fishing community but in
the larger community as well. He’s a
positive force.”
O’Brien is also a director of the
Morro Bay Community Quota Fund.
Through the fund, he has been at the
forefront of the fight to protect smallscale fishermen as the market forces in
the wake of the catch-share programs
have often led to consolidation and have
follow the
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politics wasn’t
in fishing as
it is today.
We have to
change with
the times because the times
are changing,”
he said. “It’s
that we have
to be involved
in politics, but
today it’s politics that runs
the fisheries,
not biology or sustainability. We have
to make our voices heard.”
O’Brien lauds the benefits of having
an organized fleet that brings empirical
data to prove its value. The fishermen’s
organization has published economic
impact reports annually since 2012, his
final year at the helm. By working with
Trudy O’Brien
benefited larger-scale, better-capitalized
operations. The fund was able to make
an unlikely alliance with the Nature
Conservancy to allocate “community
quota” to the fishermen of Morro Bay
below market rate. The not-for-profit
fund keeps catch shares and permits in
the control of local fishermen.
O’Brien was also a director of the
Western Fishboat Owners Association,
an industry group for the albacore tuna
fleet. Over the years he has tried to
keep an open dialog with civic organizations like the Rotary Club and other
more politically oriented associations to
emphasize the importance of a working
waterfront to the region. He has also
hosted fishermen and fishing advocates
in Morro Bay from around the country
and the world.
O’Brien does lament the politicization of fishing, but claims staying politically active is necessary for fishermen
to thrive.
“Years ago it wasn’t as important, but
O’Brien’s 48-foot Aguero with a backdrop
of the iconic Morro Rock, which supplied
material to build the harbor’s breakwater.
economic consultants, Morro Bay fishermen have proven their value beyond
romantic statements, and shown commercial fishing is one of the largest employers in San Luis Obispo County. In
2014, Morro Bay had more than $250
million in landings.
“You can talk until you’re blue in the
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8:50 AM
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face, but at the end of the day words don’t mean much.
You have to back words up with something solid,” he
said. “Every port should have economic impact reports.
It’d make all of us
It’s unfortunate
While O’Brien is
in his late 60s and
that we have to
has faced some health
concerns, he doesn’t
be involved in
plan on quitting fishing anytime soon. It’s
politics, but today
also likely that even
when he ties up his
it’s politics that
boat for good, he’ll
still be the most pasruns the fisheries,
sionate advocate of
fishermen around the
not biology or
docks in Morro Bay
and beyond.
“If there is an issue,
— Jeremiah O’Brien
Jeremiah is usually the
first one to take the
bull by the horns and schedule meetings with the policy
makers,” said Lori French, an active member of the Morro
Bay fishing community. “He has always been one of the
leaders in fishing activism on our coast.”
Joe Conchelos
Brien fished
Jeremiah and Trudy O’
various fisheries.
together for 14 years in
48-footer out of
Now he tak
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