Sig Hansen, star of the Discovery Channel hit Deadliest Catch and captain of the Northwestern crab boat, took some time to tell Trout why he opposes the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska. You read our interview with Hansen in the spring issue of Trout, but read on for the questions and answers we didn’t have room for in the print edition.
Why did you become a commercial fisherman?
I think we really didn’t have a choice in the matter. We were 12 years old at the time and we’re fourth generation fishermen so it was more or less expected of us.
On Deadliest Catch they focus on crab fishing in the Bering Sea, but have you spent time fishing for other catches?
Well, my first job was fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay. I’ve done fishing in Norway as a teenager when we were fishing in the summers kind of on and off and I had a full time job in Bristol Bay. I was 14 when I went up there and started doing that. We’d do that for half the summer and then you’d get a job on another boat, either the crab boat or you’d get a job in Norway. So I got my first paycheck, basically, from Bristol Bay.
Do you still fish there?
We do a lot of salmon tendering there now. Pretty much most of the guys on our crew fish there during the summers. Nick has a license and a vessel, and Jake, another crew member, fishes up there, and Matt fishes up there every once in a while. And my brothers, Edgar and Norman, have participated in the bay, so we’re all familiar with it. And the Northwestern, our crab boat, tenders during the summers and has been doing that since, I think it was the early 90s we started tendering there.
You’ve become involved in the anti-Pebble Mine effort. Why do you as a fisherman oppose the Pebble Mine?
It’s just common sense for me, because of the fact that it is Bristol Bay. And so it’s very dear to my heart. I just don’t feel that taking that risk is worth it.
You’re very busy, so why did you take the time to become active in the cause and what have you done so far?
As far as being active, I just feel like, because of the show Deadliest Catch, we’ve got a lot of notoriety and we’re proud of that. The fact that you can walk down a street and people recognize you as a fisherman—that never happened before. There’s a lot of ways to use that, and I just feel like this can bring a little more awareness to what’s going on up there. With the mine and the proximity and how close it is to such a delicate river system, what better person to reach out to people and speak partly for the fishermen?
How did you find out about the Pebble Mine?
Well, we’ve been up in the bay and we’ve seen the [anti-Pebble] stickers all over the place. The fishermen that we talk to, when they deliver their salmon, it’s not uncommon that that conversation comes up when you’re up there.
Would you say most fishermen are of the same mind?
Have you been involved in environmental issues before?
Do you consider yourself a conservationist?
Well, I do. I want to see sustainable fisheries. We’re fourth generation fishermen. This is our livelihood. And so, a lot of times you get the finger pointed at you as a fisherman. A lot of conservationists look at you, I think, in the wrong way. Well, I take that back. I was on the board for the Alaska Crab Coalition for a while, and not only do we want to promote crab and get more crab to fish but you also have to fight politically to keep fishing. And there’s a balance there that we want to keep intact
What in your mind do commercial fishermen have in common with conservationists?
I think it’s all about sustainability. Nobody wants to deplete any one resource. I look at it like as a resource, where a lot of conservationists may not. I think there’s just a little difference there. It’s the same thing with the mine. I’m not against mining. That’s a natural resource. Alaska itself is one big, beautiful natural resource with gas and oil and minerals and all that. It’s the proximity to Bristol Bay and that ecosystem that I have a problem with.
What can the public and commercial fishermen or recreational fishermen do to get involved in opposing the mine?
There’s always two sides to the coin, but as far as opposing the mine obviously they need to write their governor, that never hurts, or the EPA [and the] Army Corps of Engineers. They’ve got to let them know that they’re concerned.
Like I said, I just hope that our notoriety can help in some way. We’ve already had some flack mail because they talk about the jobs that can be gained and the monies that can be gained for the state of Alaska through [the mine] and we understand that. But then again, you’re talking about thousands of other jobs that could be lost, a fishing industry that has been there for a long time. I just don’t see how one can outweigh the other. To me, as a fisherman, it’s ludicrous.
Another thing too, while it’s on the top of my head, we’re also trying to promote wild salmon. That’s something we’re working on with the seafood companies. [Learn more about TU’s outreach on this issue