has almost no cell service. There are only 400 year round residents here in this native borough. My client, Andrianna and I flew here from Kodiak.
We were in Kodiak then Yakutat to interview fishermen and film them out on their boats. My client, The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, is raising funding through local investors to help start-up fishermen get up and running through low interest loans and other financial tools. There is this thing called "Quota", locally referred to as "Q", that is the incredibly complicated system that is in place for certain species of marketable catch. Believe me when I say it's really complicated.
I brought a lot of expensive camera and production equipment with me, including our primary film platform, a Canon 60D and compliment of lenses, and of course the DJI Phantom quad-copter. The drone is becoming a standard piece of gear for me now as it creates incredible production value.
But in Yakutat, not only is it unnecessary to lock the doors, it's considered rude. Nobody locks their doors and most everyone just leaves the keys in their ignitions. And of course, I want to blend in. So I'm leaving the very expensive equipment behind unlocked doors. Remarkably it's reasonably easy to blend in by leaving the doors unlocked. Not so easy to blend in when it comes to fashion. My biggest issue is the fact that I don't have the right shoes. It is not an exaggeration to say that EVERYbody in this town wears the same boots. Xtratufs. They are brown with beige trim. I'm the only one in this town that doesn't have a pair.
The other night after filming for the day, we went to a local restaurant. There was a sign on the front door that said the Glacier Bear Lodge would become a non-smoking restaurant on June 1, a few days away yet. Being that it was one of two restaurants in the whole area, and we couldn't find the other one, we went it.
The Glacier Bear is dark (and smokey). The food was good. The four or five other patrons were all wearing Xtratufs. I was not. The woman that delivered the menu, the hostess, was also the bar tender. And the waitress.
After we ordered, she informed us that she is also, I'm not making this up, the Mayor of Yakutat. Her honor wears Xtratufs, even when she's serving drinks AND delivering the mail. That's right, she is the post person here in this town. These small towns are filled with politics, I've heard. But imagine the implications of a Mayor with these credentials.
Imagine if our presidential candidates delivered mail along the campaign trail and served drinks at the "local" bar. No wonder she was elected. Brilliant campaign strategy. Hostess, bar tender, waitress and postal deliverer, she says she gets very few questions, comments or arguments in her office at "borough hall". She does; however, get a lot of drop-ins there at the Bear and while she's out distributing the new Sea Gear Marine Wear catalog and other junk mail among the bills. I don't have to mention that Sea Gear carries Xtratufs. I think it's time I got a pair.
While understanding Q is incredibly difficult, life in Yakutat is relatively simple. So they say. Fishers are my new heroes. They are brilliant people. Among other things, they understand Q and they get that the processor, (our host in Yakutat was the privately built business, "Yakutat Seafoods") faces daunting odds, right along with the fishermen. The cost of electricity on that island... .50c PER KILOWATT. And with refrigeration/freezers, and massive power cranes lifting tens of thousands of pounds of fish at a time... you can imagine the odds of staying ahead of your power bill.
It's not so simple, really. The simple life comes at great cost. 400 people in a town that has three main roads, all of them with dead ends, means everybody knows when everyone else is doing something. That complicates things. The feds change the rules and restrict Q so the Xtratuf wearing fishermen can't haul enough fish to pay for their $6.00/gallon, and climbing boat fuel. And the quota shares themselves are costly. A fisherman may buy $30,000 worth of quota shares for halibut this year, only to be told next year that he can't use them because the federal government is limiting the amount of halibut that can be taken in the fishery.
It makes for the bursting of the bubble of the American dream if you ask me. And it's why the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust is trying to support these fishermen that don't have a chance of buying Q. The simple life, Tuf though it may be, gets weirder and harder when you have the patriarchs of fishing families that have acquired quota over the years, and then face retirement. There are limits as to what they can do with their quotas. For instance, the retiring fisherman may need to sell his quota in order to retire. If he gives it to his daughters or sons to fish, there is capital gains to think about for the transfer. It's as though the simple life is Xtratuf from every angle.
I only understand an ounce of the seawater that has collected, bilgelike in the holds of the great federal shipload of commercial fishing industry restrictions. But my simple head gets this much, once again, it's almost impossible to be in business these days. And it's only getting more difficult. The survivors seem to be the bottom trawlers and conglomerated processors...
Yakutat, quite honestly, stands as a beacon of hope. If those fishermen and processors can weather the storm of difficulty and ship their incredibly high quality fish, FRESH, to almost any part of the world, there is hope for the rest of us small businesses trying to make it.
Federal laws mean well, I suppose. But it may be that the lawmakers are so far removed from the people they serve that they can't feel compassion anymore. It's hard to think about the guy that only 24 hours earlier pulled the perfect, angel-white filet of halibut out of the icy sea, risking his life for your comfort and appetite. Maybe I'm not the only one that needs a pair of Xtratufs and a walk around the neighborhood with a middle aged waitress that knows what her community needs and wants. Maybe the faceless policy makers, our president included, in our nation's capitol are overdue for that kind of community too.
Below is a snapshot from the air, our Xtratuf (I've crashed it a few times) little drone the DJI Phantom, grabbed of Yakutat the other day. We were at the Icy Waves Surf Shop. And THAT is a WHOLE other story....