Orthodox academy turns gift skiff into fishing operation

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2001

KODIAK (AP) -- When St. Innocents Academy found itself in possession of a salmon jitney and skiff, a donation from a local fisherman, the course of action was amazingly clear for a group of people with not a single commercial fisherman among them -- they would go fishing.

The hurdles before the academy members seemed trifling when compared to the benefits that they believed fishing could bring to their community. To Justin Wood, assistant dean of the academy, and the Rev. Paisius DeLucia, who heads the academy, the opportunity to engage the students in the fishing life presented the opportunity to bring the young men at the academy into the Alaskan lifestyle.

Wood recalled the thought process set in action by the gift of the boat: ''Oh, we'll go fishing. But how?''

So the academy attacked the question head on. Wood and the academy students set to work to turn the long-idle jitney into a viable fishing operation.

''Mr. Wood decided he was just going to take what he had and make things happen,'' said Michael Jones, a staff intern at the academy. ''He worked for two months solid getting it ready.''

People in Kodiak pulled together to help the academy -- an Orthodox school under the Bulgarian Diocese -- in its efforts. Local seiner Dany Stihl instructed academy members on the ins and outs of seining, drawing diagrams on a chalkboard and going over the jitney from tip to stern with Wood to see what needed work. Local welder Tom Emerson lent a hand with repairs to the aluminum jitney. Alaska Hydraulics helped re-equip the hydraulic setup. Tim Blott of Cook Inlet Processing provided the academy with a market.

DeLucia said the help indicates the public support for the school's mission.

''They had a sense that we're not out here for ourselves. We're a school that is helping boys that are at a disadvantage,'' he said. ''Every dollar that is made on those fish simply keeps the lights on.''

Another stroke of fortune from longtime salmon fisherman Dyton Gilliland, who helped the academy fishermen for the pink run at Kitoi.

''Dyton was really the icing on the cake because he taught us to fish and made all of that information come together,'' Wood said.

Gilliland was equally impressed by the academy fishermen. ''It takes a lot to go out there green,'' he said. ''You have to be pretty brave in the first place. And then have a lot of resolve, too, because when you're green the learning curve is very steep at first.''

The academy crew slept on the deck of the small jitney. At times during the summer they camped on the property of friends or were invited to stay in people's cabins.

Their determination earned them respect from other fishermen, according to Wood. After the first few days, he said, people started to realize, ''These guys are serious. That's a brutal way to fish and (fishermen) know it. I think it really helped us gain a footing in that community.''

The crew volunteered their services -- without pay. Instead, the proceeds from the season went to support the academy's basic operations.

DeLucia hopes the operation will continue to provide the two-fold benefit of giving academy students something to work hard at and take pride in, as well as a means to help support the academy itself.

''It helped greatly with our expenses,'' he said. ''We were very, very pleased with the outcome.''

Jones, the intern, said the experience was enlightning.

''I wanted to go out there and see what it really was because it is such an important part of Kodiak, and to see what kind of work people have to do to make a living and support a family,'' he said.

And like all fishermen who have been bitten by the bug, academy members already have plans to modify the jitney for the upcoming season. They also dream of acquiring a larger boat.

''We'd like to have a real seiner with a cabin, which I think is the best thing we can do to help our operation,'' Wood said.



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