East Side Set-netter
‘No weakling here can take a chance
They’re weeded out like chaff
No beardless youth or city dude
Can stand the hard, hard gaff.
Men and women with lots of guts, my lad-
Crew that never cry
For they have to fight from dawn to night
Or else go down and die.
With a twenty foot skiff
On the rough and dangerous surf
You have to pull like sin-
The roaring waves will be your grave
If ever you give in.
You fight like hell with never a yell
To get in a fathom of net;
You’ve had no sleep and nothing to eat
And your clothes are wringing wet.
You’ve fished the waves, those treacherous waves
Till your very soul is sick;
Your mouth’s red hot and your eyes bloodshot-
But it’s pick, you buggers pick.’
I’ve been a Cook Inlet east side set net fisherman for 55 years. I started fishing with my father, Per Osmar, at the age of 10. I am a second-generation setnet fisherman, and my children and grandchildren are third- and fourth-generation setnet fishermen. I’ve fished setnet sites at Corea Bend, Clam Gulch, Humpy Point, and Salamatof Beach.
When I started fishing in the mid-1950s we were still using wood corks, wood kegs, linen nets, manila line, heavy spruce plank dories, and small (unreliable) out board motors.
I’ve seen so many changes to this grand, historic, noble way of harvesting salmon in my 55 years of participating in the east side setnet fishery. I have seen this fishery evolve to lightweight aluminum and fiberglass boats, plastic buoys, nylon nets, synthetic line, and larger (reliable) outboard motors.
I own a large 5-6 permit east side set net site. On an average I hire a dozen young (aged 18-30) crew men and women. On an average I spend about $10,000 to buy crew provisions at local Soldotna and Kenai grocery stores in June, July, and August. I spend about $11,000 on gas and oil in June, July, and August, for my boats and beach trucks. Purchased from local bulk plants. I spend anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 for gear (nets, buoys, line, paint, fiberglass, tools, rain gear, web, tarps, OB parts, propane, equiptment repair, etc., etc.) from May through November. All locally. Every few years I spend $5,000 to $10,000 for a new outboard motor, purchased locally. Anually I spend thousands of dollars on crew licenses, buoy stickers, boat and truck licenses, fish site leases, all purchased locally. Annually I spend thousands on insurance for crew, trucks, boats, etc. Purchased locally.
The historic drift catch/East Side setnet catch comparison for the past 45 years is approximately 60 percent for the drifters, and 40 percent for the east side setnetters.
This season the east side set netters will catch less than 2 percent (as compared to the 45-year average of 40 percent).
I have caught only 502 red salmon this season.
If something doesn’t change, hundreds of Kenai Penninsula businesses will soon be out of business.
‘So here’s to all the boys and girls of the game-
Here’s to the miner bold.
Here’s to the musher of Arctic Trails
When they are icy cold.
And to the trapper and to the hunter,
For all of them have sand,
But the last and loudest cheer
We’ll give to the East Side Set Net fisherman!’