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Interviewee: Moe Bowstern

Role: Commercial Fishermen

Date of Interview: 9/21/07

Collection: Working Waterfront Festival Community  Documentation Project

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: Moe Bowstern was born in Onondaga, New York in 1967, and grew up in Canandaigua, New York. Her family was introduced to the fishing industry in Kodiak, Alaska when Moe’s older sister took a job as a cook on a boat. After that first job, she worked eleven salmon seasons and also fished halibut and cod. When Moe graduated from college, she decided to try her hand at fishing in Kodiak, too—and stayed. Over the years, she fished salmon, halibut, herring, cod and crab. On many of those trips, she was the only woman on the boat.

Transcript: “I finished college, I had a job waiting tables in a restaurant, I was living in Chicago, and one night I was just like, ‘What am I doing?’ I was working in a fish restaurant and I just said, ‘I'm going to go to Alaska.’ First I said, ‘I'm going to cut off all my hair,’ and then I said, ‘and I'm going fishing.’ And I went fishing that summer, and then I fished nine salmon seasons, and I fished halibut for the first four. In 1995 I started herring fishing, '98 I also fished cod, and then I did a couple seasons as a deckhand on a crab boat, and six days ago I was in Kodiak and I was just finishing up a salmon season and helping a friend close down a set net site.

Speaking for Kodiak, generally women are more in the support roles, expediting either for their families, or they are professional expediters for the canneries. You know, the woman who taught that taught me how to fish, as far as like how to live on a boat, she grew up fishing and she married a fisherman and raised four daughters. Not being around other women is hard. Think about that, going a month without being in the physical company of another woman. When you're the only woman on the boat, it's tough, but there's a freedom that comes with it. You can do it.

You know I was the skiff operator, frequently I was the person on the boat that had a lot of experience and skippers would constantly give me some, and I never learned how to handle them. I always expected to work like a man where you just go, ‘Do this,’ and they do it, but you kinda, you can't—it's frustrating. I remember my skipper thinking that I wouldn't be able to do anything and my sister who was in the industry already gave me a couple pieces of advice, and one of them was, "Always be the first one up," and the other one was, "If you don't know what to do, cook or clean." So I just always tried to do that and I was always the first one up, and the first fishing opening we had where we were getting four hours of sleep, after the second day, the guy that was the know-it-all rocket scientist—like literally had left some kind of NASA job—was a total wreck. He couldn't make it. And I was just bopping around on deck no problem.

What I would tell to a woman who is wanting to know about deckhand stuff is that you can do the job. It's not so much about strength in a lot of the fisheries because there's so much machinery that can do the stuff, but it's about what you can take in terms of uncomfortable living conditions. You know, support women who are in the industry, support women who are on the boats. You know, the women of Kodiak reached out to me and I probably got better taken care of than the boy deckhands. Women have always been involved in fishing, you know? Always, always, always, and don't buy, don't buy it that it's too hard for you. And if you want to go fishing, get your butt up to Alaska because there's plenty of work.”

To read Moe's full transcript, click here.