Since we launched Salty Girl Seafood, one of the first things that people say is how much they love the name. Often we are asked, what does it mean to be a Salty Girl?
salty: of the sea, sailing or life at sea.
This is a series of blogs honoring our kindred Salty Girls--women whose lives and livelihoods revolve around all things ocean.
Meet Alaskan fisherman, Hayley Hoover.
Salty Girl of the month Hayley Hoover is a fisherman in Cordova Alaska who, like so many fishermen, has a deep appreciation for the environment and feels the innate responsibility to protect it's resources. As a Native Alaskan woman from a multi-generational fishing family, the connection to the sea runs through her veins. She recognizes the role she must play in working to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources for generations to come. Hayley’s commitment to protecting the ocean doesn’t stop with her role as a fishermen. In addition to harvesting salmon from the gillnetter she has run since 2014, she's served on the Cordova City Council, the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association board, works in education and outreach for the Prince William Sound, and the Salmon Fellows program - on behalf her community, her heritage, and our natural resources.
What kind of work have you done (what hats have you worn) to ensure a bright future for Alaska's fisheries?
I've been on the Cordova City Council for a short time - I was on the Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association board for a little while - but I think the most important work I've been involved with to date is the Salmon Fellows program. As you may know, this program gathers together salmon lovers from across all user groups around the state to discuss sustainability and equity of the resource. I have learned so much by being surrounded by mindsets I may have never interacted with being in such a commercial heavy community. This program expands everyone's horizons so that we can move past allocation issues and get to the bigger picture issue of a shifting environment with unknown effects on the resource we all depend on.
Who first got you hooked on the sea?
My relationship with sea is intrinsically tied to my relationship with my father. As my fishing career grows so does my relationship with him. Since the time I was small my summers have been filled with memories of salmon fishing. It’s a family tradition that gives me a strong sense of self and place. Salmon are the centerpiece my family and I have built our lives around.
When you close your eyes and think about your favorite time on the water, what do you see?
Hmmm, this is a tough one. So many snapshots run through my mind when prompted with this question. When I close my eyes and think about the best memories I have of being on the water I see breakers and sand on the copper river flats. I can feel the sun beating down on me as I scramble to pick my net quickly enough to not get swallowed by the incoming tide pushing my bow picker up onto the beach. It may sound stressful, but it's a thrill a lot of fishermen chase. Always learning and pushing yourself to do better. The memory is so vivid - waves crashing around me - salt water dripping down my face - beautiful wild sockeye thrashing violently in my hands. There isn't anything I'd rather do. I feel so lucky to have been put on this path.
What was your path to becoming a commercial fisherman? What were some of the learning curves of just starting out?
I started commercial fishing with my dad when I was 12 or so. Since then every summer has been spent fishing in Area E (Copper River Flats and Prince William Sound). When I got out of college I decided to give seining a try for a couple summers. Seeing that many fish get pulled out of the sea and into a fish hold without having to touch a single one is truly exhilarating, but it wasn't for me. I decided in 2013 to buy into gillnetting and go at it alone. Having been a deckhand all my life I hadn't had much experience in the engine room of any boats. This I think was the biggest learning curve for me. With that much saltwater running through a big block engine things are bound to break from time to time and you have to be able to fix it on the spot. There's no one else with you to turn to but yourself in the moment. I won't say I'm an expert mechanic now, but I definitely have more confidence then I did when I was starting out and really the best way to learn is through experience.
What has been one of your most challenging days or trips at sea?
I think my first trip through the softuk bar was my most challenging moment out fishing so far. The anticipation alone probably fried my nerves for about a week! On the Copper River flats we're fishing in between and off of barrier islands. In between these islands are bar entrances that lead out into the ocean. The waves break hard at these spots, especially when the tide is ebbing out. I was anchored up inside softuk and had made a plan with my buddy to follow him out the next morning around 5 before the opener started. We made our way to the bar entrance. He went first, I followed. But in my nervousness I followed to closely. I was so afraid of loosing him in the waves that I forgot to watch the timing of the waves. When the waves are breaking you're supposed to throttle down and take them head on. I didn't see one coming until it was too late to correct the direction of my bow and I took the wave broad side. I think my exact thoughts were "oh shi*, I'm gonna die". Of course I didn't - but it felt as if I were going to flip over. The wave hit on my starboard side (my driving side) and I held onto my steering wheel for dear life. Everything in my cabin fell to the port side and my port windows were flush with water. And then all the sudden I was right side up again. I don't think I've ever felt so much adrenaline in my life. I was shaking. But the next wave was coming, so there was no time to indulge my freak out. I throttled up and got the hell out of there. Lessons learned - don't let fear dominate your actions + time your entry with the waves.
What does being a Salty Girl mean to you?
Being a female fishermen is important to me - especially in this political climate. I love that the life I lead has the potential to inspire other women to do things they may have thought they couldn't. Normalizing women participation in typically male dominated industries gives me a sense of purpose and pride. It's like a public fuc* you to the patriarchy without the aggressive language.
When you’re not on the ocean, what are you doing?
I work at the Prince William Sound Science center as an outreach specialist. I help with web design/edits and generate a podcast titled Field Notes that's aired on our local NPR station (coming soon to iTunes).
Is there a Salty Girl in your life? Email us to share her story with us and nominate her as a monthly Salty Girl!