Moses Johnson (l.) accepts the award, presented by Sitka Advisory Committee chair Jon Martin on behalf of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. “I protect the resource first,” Johnson said, “then represent my seine seat.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

A Sitka fishermen landed a huge set of accolades, when he was presented with a state honor last week (Wednesday, 2-20-19).

The Alaska Board of Fisheries named Moses Johnson as  one of five winners of this year’s “Award of Excellence,” for his extraordinary commitment to the state’s fisheries, through 18 years of service on the Sitka Fish & Game Advisory Committee.

Committee chair Jon Martin presented the award during the regular monthly meeting of the advisory committee, which is commonly called the “AC.”

He read from the formal citation:

“His wealth of experience as a highliner in both salmon troll and seine fisheries, as invaluable to the AC. Quiet, soft-spoken, respectful — Moses carries great weight and perspective with the advisory committee.”

Johnson is a second-generation fishermen, who took over the business from his father, Mo Johnson, Sr., in 2000. He and his family run the seiner Cloud Nine in summer, troll for kings in winter, and longline in spring.

Members of the AC took a lot of pleasure in putting the limelight on Johnson, who is well-known for his reserved personality. But it didn’t stop with AC members: Friends also poured in with praise. This is Linda Behnken, the director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

“It’s Mo’s family. It’s the people who really inspire me in this industry, who really care deeply about the resource, about the community, about our industry, and about making sure that what we have now as family fishermen is there for the future.”

Pete Esquiro, former general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, praised Johnson for his dedication to the board of the nonprofit hatchery — and his willingness to overcome some of their early differences. At least two former deckhands also spoke on behalf of their skipper, and one colleague, troller Cal Hayashi, who says he learned to read between the lines when asking Johnson — notorious for working in bad conditions — for a weather report.

“I’d call him up on the phone. Speed dial. ‘Okay, how’s it going, Mo?’ And then he would say, ‘Southeast 20, seas 10 feet.’ But I’ve learned something. Actually sometimes he would go ‘Hmmmm, Southeast…’, and if he makes that ‘hmmmm’ don’t go! Don’t even consider it!”

AC member Eric Jordan nominated Johnson for the state award. He noted that this was the first time anyone on the Sitka AC had won this level of recognition.

Johnson himself attributed the award to the dedication of all AC members over the years, and really believed it was a group award.

In fact, he was quite blunt about his priorities.  

“The main takeaway I learned from my dad — even though I’m in the seine seat — is to put the resource first, make sure it’s healthy, and after that I can represent my seine seat. Sometimes I’ve gone against a lot of the seine permit holders. If I don’t agree with something, I’m going to say.”

And finally, there was praise for Johnson from people unable to attend. Harold Thompson and Tommy Thompson, former owners of Sitka Sound Seafoods, sent their thanks to Johnson for his support of the fisheries — and of their business — throughout his career. Likewise, former ADF&G troll manager Patti Skannes confessed to always seeking out the Cloud Nine after an opener, because she knew “Mo would always have a lot of fish.” And state Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins wrote in, saying: “I know from my dad and many others how lucky we are to have you on the AC, and how much you contribute to Sitka.”