Jim Moore grew up in the state of California, but he says he didn’t really grow up until he came to Alaska. He says he moved to Sitka in 1970 with a steamer trunk full of art supplies, a violin and $1 to his name.
That summer he fell in love with commercial fishing…and someone else.
“After I’d been up here about two weeks, a friend of mine, her name was Pam, contacted me and asked if she could come up and see Alaska. And so I had arranged with the skipper that she could come out on the boat and be our cook for a couple of weeks,” Moore says.
“For some strange reason, though, even though we’d known each other several years, in California, we just sort of…” Moore says, and pauses for a moment.
“Sort of! We fell head over heels in love with each other and ended up getting married. And that was 50 years ago.”
Moore’s Southeast Alaska story has several chapters. The couple moved to Haines in the late seventies. In the 90s they even owned a restaurant there, The Wild Strawberry. They later moved back to Sitka. But the through-line in Moore’s 50 years in Southeast is trolling. Early on in his fishing career, Moore helped establish the Seafood Producer’s Cooperative.
“And we got the property that SPC is now on…and built a dock and a small building there,” he says. “That was that was kind of gratifying to be a part of that. SPC is an important part of the economy in Sitka.”
Moore now serves on three boards, including the Alaska Trollers Association, which presented him with the “Friend of the Fleet” Award in November. And while he was hesitant to get involved with the more political side of fishing at first, he became passionate about advocating for trollers when he won a seat on the NSRAA board of directors.
“And there was a kind of a mission, you know,” Moore says. “Trollers were below their allocated levels of benefit in the aquaculture associations. And I wanted to do what I could to try to boost that. I didn’t really understand the issues nearly as well as I do now. But there was for a while quite a bit of contentiousness on the boards you know, fighting over shares of fish and allocations, and that sort of thing.”
“I owe a lot to John Barry, he’s a seiner that was on the board at that time, a real true leader. He came up with a suggestion that we develop a new project, specifically for trollers — a chum salmon project in Crawfish Inlet,” Moore continues. “We were able to come up with a with a plan where everyone would benefit.”
Over 50 years he’s seen the industry go through a lot of changes– highs and lows. Moore says he saw pushback when they decided to buy their first trolling boat.
“Many people said, ‘Oh, no, that’s not a good idea. Trolling has had its heyday, and it’s collapsing now. There’s no future in it, you know, get into something else,” Moore says. “But we got into it anyway, because we love it. But you know, we’ve seen that turn around and we’ve seen kind of this cycle of boom and bust several times over the years. And people have said at different times, there’s no future in it, but somehow or other we see things turn around and that’s what I’m hoping for now.”
Nevertheless Moore is hopeful for the future of trolling in Southeast.
“I am so blessed, so privileged to be part of an industry that you’re connected to the planet in a sense, you know?” Moore says. “Your success depends on how well you’re able to intuitively connect with what’s going on in a realm that you can’t directly observe. Under the surface, there’s a whole world it’s going on there, and your success depends on figuring out what’s going on.”
And it’s not just about finding success and finding the fish- for Moore it’s also about those moments of solace in nature. He remembers one morning 20 years ago, he anchored his boat in Basket Bay.
“I had heard that there was a run of steelhead that ran up a river in Basket Bay, and I’d never been in there,” Moore says. “You run by these places for years, decades, that you never take the time to go in and explore. I thought well, why not? I’m going to go in just to explore.”
Moore anchored up and spent the night in the bay. Early the next morning, he paddled to the mouth of the river in his skiff, and found himself in front of a limestone archway. And what he witnessed next is unbelievable – a killer whale swimming upstream. Moore says he made eye contact with the whale before it jumped out of the water beneath the arch and began rushing back toward the ocean.
“Picture this, you know, the sunlight is glistening off its back. And its horn, like diamonds…And the arch there, steaming from the early morning sunlight. This thing is rushing at me, straight at me, and I’m thinking it’s probably going to get me,”
“But it didn’t. It came by again, so close,” Moore continues. “And I’m not exaggerating. I could have stepped onto its back. And, you know, I wanted to. I wanted to step off onto the whale’s back and grab hold of that and see where it took me.”