Alaska News

AK: Adventure-bound Juneau couple moves into $8,600 tiny house on wheels

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-10 14:03

A 1,200-square-foot house is considered small by today’s standards. But one Juneau couple is leaving their home for something with less than 100 square feet of livable space. They’re hitting the road, but that doesn’t come without sacrifice.

Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley’s new tiny home. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins)

On the curb in front of a brown house sits a bookshelf, a suitcase and empty picture frames. Passersby might think the tenants are moving out or spring cleaning.

“We don’t really have enough time to do a true yard sale so this is our, like, piecemeal please-everybody-come-take-our-stuff-so-we-can-move-into-98-square-feet,” Kelly Tousley says with a laugh.

There’s also a sign: “Knock on the door for more items for sale in the house.”

Kelly and her boyfriend are getting rid of nearly everything they own to fit into a tiny house on wheels parked outside their rental. From the outside, it looks like a glossy white travel trailer.

“I mean, picture opening up the back of a U-Haul and that’s what we started with,” she says.

But the inside is more like a home with vinyl hardwood floors and lime green walls. They’ll pull the trailer with a truck for a yearlong trip through the Alaska road system and down to the Lower 48.

A curtain separates the small bathroom from the kitchen. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

For such a small space, it’s remarkably plush. A bench folds out into a queen-sized bed.

“We had the conversation of, if we’re living in this and this is our house, we don’t want to be sitting on milk crates with cushions on top of them and feeling like we’re going to get slivers in our fingers when we touch the walls,” she says.

Electricity runs off solar panels. There’s a small bathroom separated by a curtain and a kitchenette but no running water.

It’s their version of the tiny house movement, downsizing and taking a do-it-yourself approach to home ownership. Many tiny houses are palaces compared to their trailer. But the couple needed something smaller and road worthy. It only cost $8,600.

“The coolest thing that I built to date was a birdhouse in sixth grade,” says Kelly’s boyfriend, Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman. “And to look at a box and say we can turn this into a house, that was daunting. And that fact that it actually worked so far is great.”

Curtiss is a high school English teacher and musician. Last summer, he toured the interior for his solo music project, Cousin Curtiss.

“So when I got back, I said, ‘You know, this is it. I’m hitting the road. I want to do this full time,’ and Kelly was 110 percent behind me all the way,” he says.

Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman and Kelly Tousley’s “living room” bench doubles as a bed. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Kelly remembers it differently. She thought he was talking about taking a vacation.

“Whereas, I think when the conversation happened, Curtiss more so took it as I’m hitting the road with him full time,” she says. “And I think it took a couple of months of that conversation to happen. Is it realistic for both of us to hit the road, for both of us to quit our jobs?”

Together, they decided it was. Kelly would quit her job working with autistic kids. They would sell everything and go on tour indefinitely. Traveling from Tok to Chicken, then down south through Montana and Michigan.

Friends and family had mixed reactions. But no one said it was a terrible idea, don’t do it.

Window installation wasn’t easy in the 98-square-foot trailer. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

“I don’t think anybody said that,” he says. “I think a few people may have said, ‘Why would you do that?’ They didn’t understand it.”

One of those people was Kelly’s grandfather, a professional builder. Kelly recounts telling him about their first big project.

“‘Grandpa, we’re going to cut in windows. We’re going to install our own windows.’ And he said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t install windows in a trailer. That doesn’t make any sense.’ And I sent a picture of us installing the first window and he said, ‘Huh, they did it!’”

They completed the tiny house in eight months. Then came the time to purge all their stuff. For Curtiss, the most difficult thing to give away was his plants, grown from his great-great-grandmother’s clippings.

Kelly says it was her clothes.

“You know, I’ll look at a shirt and be like, ‘I love that sweatshirt! I wore that every home track meet in high school.’ But the reality is I have those memories of track and I don’t need that sweatshirt to hold onto,” she says.

Kelly is giving the tiny lifestyle a year. After that, she says she’ll reassess.

Curtiss wrote the song “Here and Now” about missing Kelly on tour. But now he won’t have to. The couple is setting off for miles of open road, pulling behind them what they’ll call home.

“I think it’s a blessing to be able to ditch everything you own and be able to take off in true nomad style like human’s used to be and go hunter-gatherer across the country looking for adventure,” he says.

To see where Kelly and Curtiss are on their journey, visit

Categories: Alaska News

BC’s Mount Polly Mine to Re-Open After 2014 Dam Breach

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-10 10:35

A British Columbia mine that’s become a symbol of mineral extraction’s environmental threats will reopen next month. Provincial officials on Thursday granted the Mount Polley Mine conditional approval to resume limited operations.

This aerial image shows the Aug. 5, 2014, Mount Polley Mine tailings dam break and some of the damage downstream. The mine just won permission to reopen on a limited basis. (Photo courtesy Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre)

The central British Columbia project’s tailings dam broke about 10 months ago. That dumped up to 6.5 billion gallons of water and silt into nearby lakes and rivers.

B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett says the new permit requires Mount Polley to put waste rock and water into a nearby abandoned mine pit.

“The existing tailings storage facility, the one that breached last August, cannot be used — will not be used — under the terms of this permit. It also means that there will be no water discharged off the mine site under the terms of this permit.”

The mine will operate at half its earlier capacity to meet those standards. Even at reduced speed, Bennett says the pit will fill up in about four or five months. Further permits will be needed to continue mining.

Mount Polley will have to gain additional government approval before releasing wastewater into the environment. Bennett says that would require additional, expensive water-treatment equipment:

“They will get that permit only if the water they propose to discharge meets Canadian drinking water guidelines and also meets the standards for aquatic organisms.”

He says state and federal environmental agencies will monitor the discharges.

Hazeltine Creek, once a narrow waterway, is filled with mud, silt and logs following August 2014’s tailings dam breach at the nearby Mount Polley Mine. (Photo courtesy Chris Blake/MineWatch Canada).

“It’s also done more regularly by the company and it’s done by independent engineers and scientists that put their professional stamp on those samples,” Bennett says.

B.C. will require a third permit before the mine can again store tailings behind a dam. Bennett says if allowed, it would hold far less water than it did when it broke.

The mine is owned by Vancouver-based Imperial Metals. Spokesman Steve Robertson did not immediately return a call for comment. The corporation has ignored similar calls during the past year.

Mount Polley is in the watershed of the Fraser River, which enters the ocean far from Alaska.

But critics in Southeast say the government’s approach to the decision threatens the region’s salmon, which spawn in other transboundary rivers.

Guy Archibald works for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

“We can’t count on the B.C. environmental process to even follow their own recommendations to protect us from the mines that are proposed on the Stikine, Unuk and Taku rivers.”

An independent report on the Mount Polley disaster predicted two similar British Columbia tailings dams would fail every decade.

Archibald says that could include Imperial’s Red Chris Mine, which opened this year near a Stikine River tributary, and others.

“Given that they’re planning to put 11 mines on the Alaska transboundary border, it’s not if one of these dams is going to fail, it’s only a manner of when.”

SEACC, Salmon Beyond Borders and other Alaska mine critics have been pushing for federal intervention. A number of Southeast government and tribal leaders also want the U.S. State Department to pursue their concerns.

“We’re continuing to push for international action, the formation of an international watershed under the International Joint Commission that’s spoken about in the Boundaries Water Treaty.”

British Columbia and Alaska officials met earlier this year on transboundary mining. B.C.’s Bennett says they will meet again and could reach a memorandum of understanding regarding water and safety issues.

Alaska officials have already submitted a list of concerns to B.C. But they haven’t actively opposed mine development.

Categories: Alaska News

With Erin’s Law signed, bill sponsors see more work to be done

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-10 09:56

Gov. Bill Walker signed the Alaska Safe Children’s Act Thursday in Anchorage. The bill, also known as Erin’s Law, was controversial for some and stalled by a legislature that was at odds regarding the state’s fiscal situation. While the fight over Erin’s Law may be over, two lawmakers who worked on the bill say there is still more to be done.

Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, testified in the House Education Committee on House Bill 233, the version of Erin’s law first introduced by Rep. Geran Tarr in 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

The Alaska Safe Children’s Act requires school districts to provide age-appropriate child sexual assault, teen dating and youth suicide prevention curriculum to all students. It includes a provision adopted from Bree’s Law that mandates teen dating violence education in middle schools and high schools. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Charisse Millett of Anchorage, says the act is a catalyst and not the end solution. Speaking from the bill signing event, Millett said she thinks the legislature is ready to continue addressing Alaska’s high rates of child sexual abuse.

“Now that we’ve elevated the conversation I think most legislators that I’ve spoken with are looking for that next step, and I think the next step is finding a funding source and putting a good, solid program in place that’s good for urban and good for rural Alaska. It’s paramount that we address the core issue,” Millett said.

Millett said she’s working on a few ideas for legislation that would create a more comprehensive support system for children and teens who are victims of violence. As with Erin’s Law, the issue of funding will be front and center.

Rep. Charisse Millett (left), Gov. Bill Walker (center) and Rep. Geran Tarr attend an Alaska Flag Day celebration Thursday where Walker signed the Alaska Safe Children’s Act. (Photo courtesy of Geran Tarr)

A bill recently introduced in Congress would fund the implementation of child sexual abuse and teen dating safety curriculum in states where Erin’s Law or a similar piece of legislation has been adopted. The funding would go a long way to help the State of Alaska, which is currently grappling with an operating budget that’s outgrown available revenue.

During the legislative session, some lawmakers spoke against Erin’s Law, calling it an unfunded mandate and a burden to schools that are trying to operate with limited funding. But Anchorage Rep. Geran Tarr says people are starting to realize that prevention is the most fiscally prudent solution to Alaska’s problems with violence. Tarr originally introduced Erin’s Law in 2014, and was a co-sponsor of Millett’s bill.

“What everyone is recognizing — and if they haven’t I hope they will soon — these are really the low-cost alternatives,” Tarr said. “When you talk about something like an unfunded mandate I think Jeff Jessee from the Mental Health Trust said it very well this session where he said, ‘The real unfunded mandate is all the problems that come later.’”

The list of problems children face after experiencing violence or sexual abuse at home is extensive. Countless studies have shown that children who are harmed at home are more likely to have emotional and social problems, struggle academically and be involved in the juvenile justice system.

As adults, they are more likely to be re-victimized or become perpetrators themselves. Substance abuse and mental health problems can also worsen without intervention.

Alaska has some of the nation’s highest rates for domestic violence, rape and child abuse and neglect. The Alaska Safe Children’s Act is one of the state’s most substantial pieces of legislation aimed at addressing some of those problems, and Millett says it passed largely because of Rep. Tarr and Gov. Bill Walker, who advocated passage of the bill in his first address to the legislature.

“Credit goes to Geran for starting this battle last year and Gov. Walker for really putting the force behind the legislation. It was an incredible process,” Millett said. “It was obviously frustrating, but in the end it passed and we’re moving forward.”

The Alaska Safe Children’s Act created a task force which is responsible for the law’s implementation. Schools have until 2017 to comply with the law; that’s the deadline for the task force to develop the program’s curricula.

Categories: Alaska News

Governor, Delegation Rally to Stymie JBER Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-07-10 09:42

The reduction of 2,600 soldiers from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson isn’t expected to begin for more than a year. Alaska officials hope that gives enough time to stop it, or at least mitigate the loss. Gov. Bill Walker Thursday pledged a campaign to retain Alaska’s military forces and attract new ones.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan raised the issue at a confirmation hearing Thursday for the nation’s top military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sullivan told the nominee, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Pentagon still has to write a military strategy for the Arctic.

“Does it make sense to cut any of America’s limited number of cold-weather trained warriors in the Arctic before this Congressionally mandated strategy is completed?”

Dunford said he’d look into it.

“And the commitment I’d make to you is we will in fact develop an appropriate role for the military in support for our economic and political interests in the Arctic.”

Sullivan said this week he is blocking the confirmation of one assistant Defense secretary until he gets answers from the Army about the troop cuts. Sullivan, though, said yesterday he’d support the joint chiefs nominee.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, July 9, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 17:37

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

Download Audio


Dept. of Revenue Report: Oil Tax Credits Are A Poor Investment

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Are North Slope oil tax credits a good investment for the State of Alaska? That’s the question asked by a recent report from the Department of Revenue. The researchers answer: No, not compared to other options. But some experts say the paper doesn’t give the tax credits a fair shake.

On A Mission in Australia, News Of Army Cuts Trickles In Via Family, Social Media

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Army will be cutting thousands of positions from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, with the majority expected to come from the 4-25th Airborne Brigade. This week hundreds of troops from that unit are currently in Australia on a training mission. Many of the soldiers heard about the cuts  for the first time from family or on social media.

Bristol Bay Run Nears 20 Million Sockeye

Molly Dischner, KDLG – Dillingham

Bristol Bay fishermen had their biggest haul of the season July 8, with about 1.7 million sockeye harvested, including 1 million from the Naknek-Kvichak district.

UA System Presidential Candidate Promises to Listen and Share

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

The candidate to be the state university system’s next president is meeting with students, faculty and community members around the state this week.

Inside A Juneau Prison’s Sex Offender Treatment Program

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

Since 2010, sex offenders in Alaska prisons have been able to opt in to an intensive treatment program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, but it’s unclear if it reduces recidivism.

FLOTUS Wows Crowd at Native Youth Confab

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

About 30 Alaskans in their teens and 20s were in Washington, D.C. today to participate in the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. The highlight for many was a passionate speech by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Cleaning Alaska’s Remote Beaches, One Piece of Debris at a Time

Noelia Gonzalez, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Hanna Craig, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Big, white plastic bags called “super-sacks” line a beach on Montague Island in Prince William Sound. The sacks are filled with marine debris like fishing nets, water bottles and Styrofoam. This summer, the team from Gulf of Alaska Keeper has spent 50 days on Montague so far collecting the debris, as part of a multi-year effort.


Categories: Alaska News

Cleaning Alaska’s Remote Beaches, One Piece of Debris at a Time

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 17:32

Big, white plastic bags called “super-sacks” line a beach on Montague Island in Prince William Sound. The sacks are filled with marine debris like fishing nets, water bottles and Styrofoam. This summer, the team from Gulf of Alaska Keeper has spent 50 days on Montague so far collecting the debris, as part of a multi-year effort.

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“Super-sacks” await pickup on Montague Island. Photo: Hanna Craig, Alaska Public Media.

The trash that accumulates on the shoreline of Montague Island, from one day to another, is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s more where it came from, and it will keep coming back. It has been like this for decades.

“What you see on the beach is a fraction of what’s out there. Either being it floating on the surface or sunk on the bottom of the water,” Ryan Pallister says. Pallister has spent 10 years working for a nonprofit: Gulf of Alaska Keeper.

A helicopter lands on Montague Island in Prince William Sound. Photo: Hanna Craig, Alaska Public Media.

The “goAK” crew goes all the way down the shorelines of south central Alaska, from Kodiak to Kayak Island. Pallister says the weather can be extreme. The team also has to keep a close watch for brown bears. And then there’s the challenge of the work itself.

“Basically, it comes down to human muscle; I mean, we use chainsaws and knives… And the heli, of course; now that we have the heli we can use the heli to pull, and lift, and…but yeah, it comes down to men hour.”

The 10-person-crew receives help from volunteers like Hanako Yokota, who works with the Japan Environmental Action Network. Yokota has a very special duty: recognizing the marine debris from Japan that may be from the 2011 tsunami that swept millions of tons of debris into the ocean. She points at the mass of trash next to her:

“With this, I can never say that it is from Japan. I mean, it is from Japan, but I can never say if it is from the tsunami, because it doesn’t really state it is from the tsunami.”

However, Yokota can read Japanese and she’s able to recognize the logos and names some fishermen write on their buoys to distinguish them. Although she now lives in Vancouver, when Yokota visits Japan fishermen ask her to bring their buoys back, if she finds them.

“It will be very interesting if I actually get to take something back and return it.”

The marine debris that ends up in the beaches of Montague comes from remote places like Japan, but also from Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia, Yokota says.

“It doesn’t really matter where it comes from; we’ll just have to clean it up.”

“The more we collect and the more we remove, the more gets off this island and gets recycled.”

Crew member Scott Groves is standing next to a few super-sacks of trash and he seems satisfied: they have reached their goal of around 20 to 25 super-sacks a day. He writes the numbers down in his notebook.

“As far as numbers are concern, you kind of forget how much you actually do out here. Is like every day you still get your mind blown by how much garbage is actually on these beaches.”

Ryan Pallister says that after a decade cleaning this coast, he’s still surprised by the amount of marine debris.

“Out there, is dirty forever. And almost it’s hard to finish it in my lifetime but…more people would help, more resources.”

So why keep coming back to clean something that will be dirty tomorrow? Pallister has a simple answer:

“If your neighbors are throwing trash in your yard, just clean it up or say something to them…It’s kind of the same situation.”

Pallister believes a change in people’s behavior is needed to stop the contamination problem, but he’s not very optimistic about it. In the meantime, the helicopter will come down soon to collect the bags of trash and sling them onto a barge.

Categories: Alaska News

FLOTUS Wows Crowd at Native Youth Confab

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 16:30

About 30 Alaskans in their teens and 20s were in Washington, D.C. today to participate in the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. The highlight for many was a passionate speech by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Miss Arctic Circle: Elizabeth Ferguson, 21, of Kotzebue, is in Washington, D.C., to participate in a tribal youth gathering at the White House. Photo: Liz Ruskin/APRN.

In a cavernous hotel ballroom near the White House, Mrs. Obama told the crowd they, as individuals, matter.

“Each of you was put on this Earth for a reason,”  she said. “Each of you has something that you’re destined to do. Whether that’s raising a beautiful family, or succeeding in a profession, or leading your community into a better future. You all have a role to play. And we need you.”

Obama urged them to notice the investment placed in them. She also said, despite how they may feel at low points, they are never alone.

“Everyone in this room has your back. Everyone speaking at this summit – all those cabinet secretaries and powerful people who’ve come here for you – they have your back,” she said. “And you definitely have a president and a first lady who have your back.”

The gathering is part of President Obama’s Gen-I – or Generation Indigenous –project, aimed at cultivating leadership in young people and helping them succeed. The participants, more than 1,000, had to apply for selection, so this is a high-achieving bunch. Many of them have already launched projects to improve their communities. In her speech, the first lady warned attendees that some of the big changes they’re seeking may not occur until their children or grandchildren are grown.

Sierra Shanigan-Daugherty, 19, of Anchorage, and Miss Arctic Circle: Elizabeth Ferguson, 21, of Kotzebue in Washington, D.C. Photo by APRN’s Liz Ruskin.

“And, see, maybe decades from now, maybe those kids — your kids, your offspring — will look back at all of you and say you were the generation who started it all. Gen-I,” she said. “You were the generation that dug deep. You were the generation that drew strength from your history. And wrote a new story of Indian Country, and of America.”

Among those seeking big changes is Meghan Topkok of Nome, who has roots in Ambler and Mary’s Igloo.

”My to-do list? It’s very long,” she said. “I’m really concerned about subsistence hunting, and shipping that’s increasing through the Bering Strait. As well as the erosion of the land.”

She’s a law student at the University of Oregon and, at 24, one of the older attendees at the gathering. She spoke after a session on environment and climate change.

“I think what’s really inspiring is our youth are engaging in these issues, because I think so often, especially out in the village, like where I’m from, there’s kind of a lack of awareness, or  a passivity about it, and these kids are really inspiring because they’re doing things in their communities and bringing ideas here with them and sharing them. So we’re all learning from each other and we take those ideas back and it’s like a ripple effect.”

Some of the Alaskans wore fur vests and calico kuspuks that made them easy to identify. Twenty-one year old Elizabeth Ferguson really stood out. She wore a tall crown made of jade and ivory. It’s her tiara for winning Miss Arctic Circle, a regional culture pageant. She was also wearing a sash across her torso, with “Miss Arctic Circle” spelled out in sealskin.

I’m from Kotzebue Alaska. I’m the youngest tribal council member on our Native village of Kotzebue.

Ferguson says she drew inspiration from other leaders at the conference, but she says the First Lady’s speech really hit the mark.

Not only did she just speak to us and encourage us and empower us, she didn’t speak down on us, you know, like she’s superior,” Ferguson said. “She spoke at us. She met us at our level, and she lifted us up.”

In conjunction with the conference, the White House also announced a raft of grants and programs to improve Indian education, justice, and economic opportunity.

Categories: Alaska News

On A Mission In Australia, News of Army Cuts Trickles in Via Family, Social Media

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 16:11


The Army will be cutting thousands of positions from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, with the majority expected to come from the 4-25th Airborne Brigade. This week hundreds of troops from that unit are currently in Australia on a training mission. Many of the soldiers heard about the cuts  for the first time from family or on social media.

Members of the 4-25th Airborne Brigade of JBER load up on a C-130 during exercise Talisman Saber. Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA.

Specialist Jesse Reed hasn’t really been keeping up with the news. After 19 hours of flying from JBER, he jumped into a remote corner of eastern Australia near Shoalwater Bay as part of joint exercise Talisman Saber, a training mission. After spending the night in a field next to an airstrip — he learned about the cuts Thursday afternoon.

“Just got a text message from my friend leading me to a news article talking about the cuts for U.S. Army Alaska.”

Reed’s been at JBER for two-and-a-half years, and though disappointed, he says this isn’t the end of the world for him.

“Not out of a job tomorrow. Finish out my time here, do my re-enlistment, then go wherever I choose to go or the Army sends me.”

By the time all 2,631 positions are cut 2017 the brigade will be left with just under 1,000 personnel — too few for a full combat brigade. But according to Captain Chase Spears, a veteran of 4-25 assigned to US Army Alaska, the reduction won’t happen overnight.

Members of the 4-25th Airborne Brigade congregate under a rainbow during exercise Talisman Saber. Photo: Zachariah Hughes/KSKA.

“No one is showing up and being told ‘hey your position has gone away.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

In a drawdown, the Army tries to eliminate positions through attrition — leaving slots unfilled after soldiers move on to new postings. But some soldiers will likely have to be let go through what are called “involuntary separations,” to hit target goals over the next two years. By then, according to a Pentagon press conference Thursday, the brigade will be reconfigured as a battallion-sized task force. They’ll still be the only Army unit that’s able to do airborne operations in the Arctic, along with partner missions in the Pacific like Talisman Saber. But not at the level they’re currently able to do.

Even with some unknowns, the cuts will hurt soldiers who have put down roots in Alaska and can’t easily head on to a new posting, like Sergeant First Class Frank Petitta, who heard the news in the gym. When Petitta moved from North Carolina with his family, they saw appreciating home values and a community filled with military retirees in Wasilla.

“I wanted my family and my kids to enjoy Alaska, and I think that’s best done off-post, and so we decided to buy a house.”

According to the Army’s studies on economic impacts, a cut this size means a drop of $358 million from Anchorage’s economy — $182 million in loss of sales, $176 million income loss, according to Lt. Col Alan Brown of U.S. Army Alaska. Part of that loss is salaries going away for soldiers like Petitta who are further along in their careers and more likely to own property.

A Royal Australian Air Force No. 3 Squadron F/A-18 Hornet departs for a sortie at RAAF Base Tindal, Northern Territory, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015. Photo: Talisman Sabre Facebook page.

“The guys that have the equivalent rank of myself, that I would say the vast majority own houses—and I’m talking 70, 80 percent easy.”

One such guy is sitting a few feet away, Staff Sergeant Josh Schneiderman, who moved to Eagle River specifically for the good schools.

“We’re extremely worried, especially now. I mean, I’m very close to retirement and this drives a lot of things — because the ultimate goal for us was to move to Alaska and retire. And now with the close down it’s going to affect our decisions drastically.”

Now that worries from the last few months over whether or not cuts would come to JBER have been answered, Schneiderman says there’s a whole new set of concerns once he gets back to Alaska.

“I’m going to go home now and my wife’s probably going to inform me of the closure that everybody’s aware of. However — what am I supposed to tell her? That we’ll figure it out? I mean it’s hard, because you don’t know who’s going and you don’t know who’s staying.”

But before anything else, this airborne battalion from the 4-25th has one more day in Australia, a 19-hour plane ride, and another parachute jump back onto base.

Categories: Alaska News

Off Their Rockers At Juneau’s Senior Prom

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 15:47

The Juneau Pioneer Home hosted its annual “senior prom” last month. Residents, volunteers, and staff danced to live music by the Thunder Mountain Big Band.

Every year, the senior citizens living at the Juneau Pioneer Home throw a “senior prom.”

Cindy Athearn has worked and volunteered at the Juneau Pioneer Home for over 20 years. She enjoys seeing the whole community come together for the event. “Everybody gets involved – families, staff. It’s a wonderful, magical time,” she says.

Resident Ruth Dawson also enjoys the opportunity to connect with others. “It’s a way to get to know each other and just to get to get closer to each other.”

The event is a lot of fun, but there’s also a deeper purpose according to Juneau Pioneer Home Administrator Gina Del Rosario. “Each day, we strive to celebrate life, and this is one way of celebrating life within this community is to enliven it with special events like this one,” she said. “It fits very well with the mission of the Alaska Pioneer Home: ‘providing a home and a community celebrating life through its final breath’.”

Categories: Alaska News

Body of Ketchikan Woman Recovered from Tongass Narrows

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:50

Early Thursday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers recovered the body of a 34-year-old Ketchikan woman from the Tongass Narrows.

Troopers Spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says the call came in at about 1 a.m.:

“Troopers were notified that there was a body found by a person in a boat. The body was found floating in the Tongass Narrows, about a quarter mile from the Coast Guard base.”

Ipsen says the victim has been identified as Angeline Tanya Dundas. Next of kin have been notified, and the body has been sent to the State Medical Examiner for an autopsy.

“At this time, Troopers do not suspect foul play is involved, but they are waiting on an autopsy to confirm this, and to determine the cause of death.”

Results from the autopsy will take at least a couple of days.

Ipsen says Dundas was last seen alive just a few hours before her body was found.

“She’d not been reported missing before her body was discovered, and she was last seen alive about 10 p.m. (Wednesday) night.”

Troopers continue to investigate Dundas’ death. Ipsen asks that anyone with information contact Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan.

Categories: Alaska News

Bristol Bay Run Nears 20 Million Sockeye

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:46

Bristol Bay fishermen had their biggest haul of the season July 8, with about 1.7 million sockeye harvested, including 1 million from the Naknek-Kvichak district.

Fish are unloaded in Naknek, June 28, 2015.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

On Wednesday fishermen in Bristol Bay hauled in their biggest catch to date – landing about 1.7 million sockeye, including 1 million harvested out of the Naknek-Kvichak district. The total run to Bristol Bay now stands at about 20 million sockeye, which is still well below the forecast … but Port Moller’s test fishery says catches the last two days are near the highest of the season.

Eastside fishermen had strong catches Wednesday.

The million fish out of Naknek-Kvichak Wednesday brought the season total there to 3.3 million fish. The Naknek hit the lower end of its escapement goal yesterday, with 60,000 fish counted yesterday bringing the total to about 887,000, within the 800,000 to 2 million sockeye range. The Kvichak goal was adjusted to 2.35 million fish earlier this week, and yesterday’s count of 755,000 reds brought the season total to 2.3 million, nearing the goal.

In Ugashik, 374,000 sockeye caught Wednesday; season total for the district is 2 million, and that river is also nearing it’s escapement goal – 500,000 are needed; yesterday’s count brought the season total to 457,000. Yesterday’s Egegik catch was 308,000 fish; season total is 3.9 million, and the lower end of the escapement goal has already been met.

Westside catches and counts were a little slower yesterday.

The Togiak catch Wednesday was about 10,000 sockeye, bringing the season total to  57,000. This is typically the peak of the season there, but ADFG enacted restrictions there to limit fishing due to low counts and low catches so far.  No fish were counted at the Togiak tower yesterday.

In the Nushagak District, 94,000 reds caught yesterday, bringing the season total to about three million. The Nushagak, Wood and Igushik rivers have all met the lower end of their escapement goals.

More fish could be on the way.

The Port Moller Test Fishery posted its second best day of the season yesterday, with a replacement index of 80. The only day better was June 26, with an index of 82. Tuesday’s index was 76.  The Port Moller catches typically indicate how many fish are on their way back to Bristol Bay, and are several days out from the five Bristol Bay fishing districts.

Nushagak District Area Manager Tim Sands said he doesn’t know how many of the Port Moller fish are headed to his district, in part because genetics results aren’t in yet.

“I’m not the expert  on Port Moller, but it’s a surprise to me to see such a big bump. And of course, two days of missing data as well, so we don’t know what’s there.”

Sands said he hopes some are headed to his district.

“I’m optimistic that some of those fish will be heading to the Nushagak District, how much we don’t know, but it’s certainly better than a complete drop off out there.”

Categories: Alaska News

Homicide Suspected In Bodies Found On Denali Highway

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:43

The Alaska State Troopers have identified the bodies of two people found near the Denali Highway on Sunday after what they believe to be a double homicide.

Troopers say that sixty-one-year-old Richard A. Casler and 42-year-old Lynn M. Butler, both of Wasilla, died of gunshot wounds inside their trailer near mile seventy-nine of the highway from Paxson to Cantwell.

The investigation into Casler and Butler’s disappearance began last Friday night.  According to the Alaska State Troopers, both were reported missing from the area where they were camping.  Responding troopers found what they believed to be evidence of an altercation involving gunfire in the area of the trailer Casler and Butler were staying in. A ground and air search was conducted, and, on Sunday, noises were heard coming from what the dispatch report describes as a “dilapidated” trailer in the area around 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Attempts were made to communicate with anyone who might be inside, but no one responded.  Troopers called in two special emergency reaction teams, then entered trailer and discovered Casler and Butler’s remains.  Trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen says that the source of the noises heard on the scene has not been identified, and that an estimate of the time between the noises and troopers’ entry into the trailer is not currently available.

The Alaska State Troopers are still investigating the incident, and are asking anyone who spent the Fourth of July weekend in the area to call (907) 451-5100.

Categories: Alaska News

Canned Salmon: A New Face on an Old Product

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 14:11

Photo: Clark Fair via

Despite the new ways of marketing and selling salmon, canned fish remains a major product in Bristol Bay.

In 2013, 38 percent of the salmon coming out of the bay was put into cans. But they aren’t flying off the shelves. L.A. marketing professional Craig Caryl is working with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to change that.

“I think that canned salmon needs to be positioned with blueberries, literally, as a superfood,” Caryl said.

He’s not the only one who wants to see a resurgence in canned salmon.

“Brings tears to my eyes because it’s such a, it’s an old business but it’s such a staple business,” said Eric Weiss, who sells tin to canneries throughout Alaska, including some in Naknek. “And people need to eat more canned salmon.”

Weiss works for Crown Cork N Seal, which has worked on developing new, smaller, cans that he thinks are more appealing to consumers.

“We’ve actually introduced a new smaller size to the industry,” Weiss said. “It’s about the size of, the height of a quarter pound can and then the diameter of a half pound can.”

But Weiss says there are challenges in getting that new can sold – from inefficiencies for processors in filling more smaller cans, to convincing stores to sell them.

Caryl is trying to increase demand. His target audience? Millenial women, particularly pregnant women and new moms who might be interested in the health benefits of a can of fish, and also appreciate the sustainability of Alaska’s fisheries.

Caryl’s wife is an integral part of that effort.

“My wife has been developing these amazing salmon burgers, with like a caper lemon sauce that she mixes up. And the big test for us is, will our six year old son eat it? My six year old is pretty picky and he really digs these salmon burgers.”

Caryl hopes that a website with 30 or so recipes tested by his wife will hit home with the mommy bloggers who can spur purchases and eventually help salmon capture a little of the tuna market.

“It’s changing people’s perception about them and driving the consumer into the shop and forcing the shop to say ‘hey, you know, we gotta move this off the bottom shelf and put this four feet high so people can see it.'”

Categories: Alaska News

Inside A Juneau Prison’s Sex Offender Treatment Program

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 10:01

Since 2010, sex offenders in Alaska prisons have been able to opt in to an intensive treatment program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, but it’s unclear if it reduces recidivism.

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A 2012 University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center publication identified a statewide benchmark; of about 240 sex offenders released from Alaska prisons in 2008, 2 percent were reconvicted on sex offenses within two years.

Here’s a look inside the treatment program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Andrew Peabody has served about 27 years in prison for sexual assault. He said he’s scheduled to be released in February. Peabody said he used to feel numb and didn’t want to deal with what he’d done.

During an event at Lemon Creek Correctional Center earlier this year, Peabody said the sex offender treatment program is teaching him empathy “for my victim. You have to write a letter to that person realizing what you’ve become to that person, how you affected that person’s life.”

Licensed clinical counselor Malcolm Nichols joined Lemon Creek Correctional Center in 2010. He created and runs the sex offender treatment program. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The letters aren’t actually sent.

Licensed clinical counselor Malcolm Nichols created and runs the sex offender treatment program at the Juneau prison. Nichols has a history of working with high risk populations. Prior to Lemon Creek, he ran a sex offender treatment program in Columbus, Ohio.

The two-year program is a combination of structured group therapy and individual counseling. Some inmates are also prescribed medication for sexual urges. Nichols says the program is not supposed to be a cure. The goal is for inmates to learn to control and manage risk factors that could lead to sexual assaults.

Another assignment is writing a narrative describing the period of time leading up to their crime.

“It starts a year out from their sexual crime and then takes them nine months, six months, three months and then 24 hours before it happened and this can be very difficult and dramatic,” Nichols said.

It’s supposed to be self-revealing. Nichols doesn’t let inmates get away with denying or minimizing what they’ve done. These are tactics, he says, to avoid change. Nichols recounted what happened when one inmate described his offense during a recent group session.

“He was telling it from his own personal position but I always want them to also give the objective, what actually happened, which he didn’t. So when I confronted him, he sort of got extremely dysphoric and broke into some deep sobbing and the whole group [got quiet]. You could hear a pin drop,” Nichols said.

Inmates in the program helped build this exterior classroom for their group sessions. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Lemon Creek Correctional Center program treats 24 men at a time. Inmates enter the program when they’re within 3 years of being released. All have been convicted of at least one sex assault and have admitted to at least one. Nichols says some have a long history of committing many sexual assaults. One even claimed to have committed hundreds.

“Some of the high risk guys have a history of sex offending going way back into their adolescence or even childhood,” Nichols said.

Alaska leads the country for the rate of reported forcible rape, according to FBI crime statistics. There are about 770 sex offenders in the Alaska prison system, which Nichols says represents a fraction of total offenders.

He says it takes a lot of patience to work with sex offenders.

“I don’t see people as necessarily the sum of their parts. I think that people are capable of choice and that I have to not shame them or ostracize them or let them think that they’re not human or they’re not incapable of change,” Nichols said.

The work takes its toll. When Nichols leaves the office he tries to completely disengage with work. To avoid stress, he bikes and exercises regularly.

And there’s a lot at stake when inmates leave the treatment program and are released into the community.

“We all in this field live in dread of one of our guys getting out and committing some kind of horrendous sexual offense,” Nichols said. “And I’ve had some extremely dangerous inmates who, as they were leaving the program, I was keeping my fingers crossed.”

So far, of the 52 who’ve completed the program and been released, one is back in prison for a sexual offense.

Categories: Alaska News

Six-hour chum fishery to open in Juneau’s Amalga Harbor

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 09:35

Thursday is the opening of the purse seine season at Amalga Harbor in Juneau. Commercial fishermen will be able to catch chum, released from the DIPAC hatchery.

(Photo courtesy of Dave Harris/ADF&G)

The fleet is allowed to fish for profit because DIPAC has already made back the cost to hatch the salmon. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Dave Harris says he’s expecting a good turnout for the opening.

“My understanding is there’s about 30 boats anchored on the set right now,” he says. “And so I assume they’ll be at least that many. We’ve had 100 boats participate in these fisheries in the past.”

The opening is only six hours and starts at 9 a.m. Typically, in fisheries like this, seiners have about 15 hours to get their catch.

But Harris says it’s a high-use area for Juneau residents; hence, the short time frame.

“This will allow the commercial fleet the opportunity to take these fish and hopefully the impacts on other people’s enjoyment and whatnot will be minimized,” he says.

Hidden Falls Hatchery on Baranof Island isn’t allowing commercial fishing because of low returns.

Captain Sig Mathisen came all the way to Juneau from Petersburg on the Marathon to fish for Icicle Seafoods.

“Well, it would be lovely to go home with a load of fish. That’s for sure,” Mathisen says. “But we’re tempering our expectations because of what we’re seeing in the waters here.”

It’s estimated that the commercial fleets could earn anywhere from 45 to 55 cents a pound for the chum.

Categories: Alaska News

UA System presidential candidate promises to listen and share

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 08:23

The candidate to be the state university system’s next president is meeting with students, faculty and community members around the state this week.

Jim Johnsen at a meet and greet in Juneau, July 7, 2015. Johnsen is a candidate for University of Alaska president. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

To see a schedule of UA system presidential candidate Jim Johnsen’s visits or to submit written feedback, go to the Board of Regents’ website,

Jim Johnsen has a professional background in organized labor, academia and, most recently, in corporate business as a senior manager for Alaska Communications and Doyon Limited, the Alaska Native corporation for the interior.

In June, the University of Alaska Board of Regents selected him as its single finalist to lead the system. The candidate is tall, energetic and quick with a smile.

If he gets the job, he says students and faculty can expect him to be present on campuses around the state, listening and sharing ideas for how to strengthen the university in tough fiscal times.

Here’s how Johnsen describes the job:

“In large part to be the voice of the university for the state, OK? To represent the university in the legislature, to represent the university with the governor, and the governor’s staff … so there’s an external side to things with big corporations, and other NGOs, Congress, etc. so that’s the outside piece.

The inside piece is to make sure the university is organized in a way that delivers the best and widest access to students using technology, etc., delivers high quality academic programs cost effectively. ”

He highlighted two areas he wants to work on, remedial education and Arctic research. He says over half of the university system’s students require remedial education, a major challenge.

His ambition for the university system as an Arctic research center is to be the best.

“Alaska right now has the number one research university in the world when it comes to Arctic research. We’ve gotta keep that, and we’ve gotta, in fact, grow that, because over the next 10, 20, 30 years, there’s going to be a lot of action in the north. And I think we want to position ourselves to continue to be leading in the study of and the understanding of that very, very important part of the world.”

Courtney Enright was the board’s student regent during the main selection process.
“What I really was looking for was someone who focused on students, or understood that students have an important role in the university. So somebody that had that understanding of that connection of students as the customer, effectively, for the university.”

Enright graduated in May and spoke from Louisiana, where she’s beginning a new job. She said Johnsen was an exemplary candidate. She suggested students keep an eye on tuition rates as one gauge of his performance.

“The president does submit formally the tuition recommendation every year to the Board of Regents. That’s one of the biggest measures students really look at. But, given the fiscal challenges of the university, it’s a little bit more uh, I think complicated these years than to just judge based on that number.”

The regents are expected to finalize their selection at the end of the month.

Categories: Alaska News

Sec. Jewell Pledges More Soverignty to Tribal Youth Visiting DC

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-07-09 08:18

Some 30 Alaska Native teens are in Washington D.C. today for the first-ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave the opening address this morning:

“We actually thought there would be 870 young people. There’s over a 1,000 here, so that’s amazing,” she said.

Jewell told them the Obama administration is committed to self-determination. That’s a break, Jewell said, with the past, when assimilation was the ideal.

“We now know better. We have learned from you and your elders … that you know best what to do for your people and it is our job to facilitate that self governance and self-determination.”

Jewell said some Native youth are battling problems no one should face. She acknowledged the efforts of Kotzebue teens to prevent suicide. She also said she heard it was 90 degrees in Tanana recently and said the administration is working on solutions for climate change. The secretary said climate disruption hits Indian country more than other places, because of the connection to the land.

“So my hope for you today is similar to this, to be proud of your traditions, your cultures… if you’re confident in who you are and what you have to offer, the world is going to respond to you,” Jewell said.

First Lady Michelle Obama is due to address the Native youth conference at lunch.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 8, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:39

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

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Army to Cut 2,600 Soldiers from JBER

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, D.C.

The Army plans to cut 2,600 troops from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and another 75 soldiers from Fort Wainwright. The cuts will slice two thirds of the personnel from the 4-25th Airborne Brigade.

Ocean Acidification Threatens Shellfish Hatcheries

Shady Grove Oliver, KBBI – Homer

New research paints an unsettling picture of the future of shellfish in coastal Alaska. The effects of ocean acidification are worsening and could mean the end of hatcheries in the next 25 years if costly mitigation efforts aren’t put in place.

Fire Crews Scramble to Protect A Village on the Koyukuk

Tim Bodony, KIYU – Galena

Fire crews are defending the Koyukuk River village of Hughes from a wildfire approaching from the east.

Nakeen Homepack: Processing Salmon With A Little TLC

Hannah Colton, KDLG – Dillingham

Many in Bristol Bay have dreamed of processing and selling their own catch… but the challenges are many. But some around the Bay are making it work. KDLG’s Hannah Colton caught up with one four-year old small processor, and she found that those challenges can be overcome with some grit and elbow grease, a little humor, and a lot of attention to detail.

POW Ferry Service Suspended

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System has cancelled this summer’s sailings between Petersburg and northern Prince of Wales Island. But they’ll happen next year.

Brother Francis Shelter Fields Complaints About Bullying

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Clients of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage are agitating for change. They are frustrated with the way they are being treated at the shelter and with some of the policies.

A Pilgrimage To Minidoka: ‘We Can See The Memories Slipping Away’

Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

Living witnesses to the forced relocation of West Coast Japanese-Americans during World War II are growing fewer every year. Many who were incarcerated are in their 80s and 90s now.

Categories: Alaska News

Army to Cut 2,600 Soldiers from JBER

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:38

The Army said today it plans to cut 2600 troops from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and another 75 soldiers from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. That would still leave JBER with more than 9,000 service members but it slices two-thirds of the personnel from the 4-25th, the only airborne brigade in the Pacific.

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Alaska’s U.S. senators got the news this morning from the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff. Sen. Lisa Murkowski vowed to fight it.

“This is a decision that was made by the Pentagon that needs to be reversed by this president, needs to be reversed by the secretary of Defense,” she said. “And we’re going to work to educate folks as to why it should be reversed.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation, at multiple hearings, has pressed Pentagon officials to acknowledge Alaska’s strategic location on the globe and the importance of having troops who are Arctic-ready. Murkowski says Army’s decision doesn’t just harm the local economy.

“This is bad from a national security perspective,” she said. “This president made that decision that he was going to reduce force strength. And I think it was done at a time when the world was not as volatile as it is now.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan says the decision hurts American credibility overseas and damages the Army’s ability to operate in the Arctic.

You cannot take troops anywhere – Marines, Army — and put them in the Arctic and say ‘Operate.’ You have to have a culture. You have to have years of training. We have that and we’re removing it,” Sullivan said. “ The only guy who’s going to be happy about this decision right now is Vladimir Putin and maybe Kim Jung Il — or Jung Un in North Korea.”

The reductions are part of the Army’s effort to reduce its force by 40,000. The Army also announced today it’s downsizing in Georgia and Hawaii.

Sullivan says the Army should cut fat from the budget, not personnel.

“There are other ways, and I’m going to start probing,” he pledged, “whether it’s bloated headquarters, whether it’s missions that seem to be redundant of other services, like the Army’s Pacific Pathways mission, which looks an awful lot like the Marine Corp’s mission.”

Sullivan says he’s put a hold on a Pentagon confirmation until he gets more information from the Army. If there’s a silver lining, Sullivan says it’s that part of the brigade will stay.

“The entire unit’s not being removed. There’s still going to be, you know, it’s going to be removed by two-thirds,” he said. “But there’s still going to be that capability to be able to build on if we get to what the Army sees as funding levels (where) it can rebuild what is a very strategic force.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said at a hearing this week the troop cuts have to come from somewhere. Dempsey blamed Congress and its budget cuts.

“I will tell you this, senator,” Dempsey said, after listening to Sullivan make the case for keeping the JBER unit. “We’re used to the Congress telling us ‘no’ on the reforms that we’re making, not because we’re trying to cut ourselves apart, but because we’ve got a trillion dollars … less in budget authority over 10 years. We’ve said from the beginning it’s a disaster.”

Murkowski says the Alaska personnel cuts won’t begin for another 18 months. She says she was told the Army hopes the reductions can come mostly from attrition, but the senator says that doesn’t seem realistic.

Categories: Alaska News

Nakeen Homepack: Processing Salmon With A Little TLC

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2015-07-08 17:35

Many fishermen in Bristol Bay dream of packing and selling their own fish, but challenges. One four-year-old startup in Naknek shows how those challenges can be overcome with some grit, humor, and attention to detail.

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After all the fish are filleted, Amanda Wlaysewski scrapes the last of the meat for salmon “burger.” A processing veteran, Wlaysewski worked at canneries for years to pay for her undergraduate and master’s degrees. Photo: Hannah Colton/KDLG

Amanda Wlaysewski will admit: she’s a bit of a fish snob. When a salmon comes across her table at Nakeen Homepack, she makes sure it is coddled every step of the way.

“We’re always looking for ways to not touch that fish,” she says. “We changed our processing line so that instead of handing it across three times, everyone’s adjacent to eac hother, so instead of having to reach across the table, he just slides it across… those might seem a little fussy, but it makes a huge difference.”

Wlaysewski admits she might be a little over-sensitive. But she says, when you see thousands of fish go into fillets, you notice all the little bumps and bruises that can be prevented with a little TLC.

“Because that same exact fish that came off the boat and maybe wasn’t kept at temperature… could’ve been the same fish that comes through like the ones you saw today – all their scales, bright and shiny – perfect! They’re perfect.”

She’s referring to a load of subsistence salmon she picked up from the beach earlier that day.

“Do you have the weight on those? – about 295…”

In the calm before the storm of commercial fishing, Wlaysewski is breaking in a mostly new crew.

Sockeye fillets await vacuum sealing at Nakeen Homepack. Photo: Hannah Colton, KDLG

One of her experienced hands, Shoshana Wilhite, is helping train the five newcomers…

“Yeah! They’ve actually picked it up fast this year, so I’m impressed,” she says.

And we’ve been so slow but we’ve been getting some practice – we’ve gradually gotten more fish every day, so it’s been good.”

The nine-person crew can do about 500 pounds per hour, so it takes them about 40 minutes to get this delivery cut, vac-packed and into the freezer.

While they’re cleaning their equipment, a truck pulls up in front. It’s bringing another load of fish to cut, as well as a gift for Wlaysewski.

“This is a local lady here – she’s donating her dog for the summer so we have a beardog. We have bears and fox and when they catch a whiff of salmon, we’ll have ‘em all season…so I hadda have a new hire. — I guess his name is Gem. G-E-M, Gem. This’ll be his interview, Pam, see if I wanna hire him!”

Pam Riddle has been bringing her subsistence fish to Wlaysewski for four years now. Riddle does a lot of processing herself – canning, smoking, salting… but when she wants frozen fillets to ship out of state, she leaves it to Nakeen Homepack.

“I don’t have the facilities she does. And I send it to Washington for my daughter. And this makes it really easy – all I do is just bring her my fish. And Amanda’s good people, really good people.”

This is how Wlaysewski likes to do business – by word of mouth, with friendly fishermen that come back year after year.

And she said, when they’re giving fillets to relative or selling them at farmer’s markets, fishermen start to pay more attention to how they treat their fish, too.

“And then the next year when they come back they’re really tapped into that. They wanna know – oh how’s the fish looking? Oh, we bled all of these! Or oh, I went to this class this winter on processing or bleeding… and it’s really cool to see them put the education into it and understand the difference.”

Of course, as every processor big or small discovers, there are challenges to starting a business in Bristol Bay. Wla says it can be hard to get a mechanic during fishing season, it’s complicated to ship up supplies and expensive to buy them locally.

“It’s kind of a thing where looking back, if you knew what it was gonna be like you would be too intimidated – or I personally would be too intimidated to do it. So it’s best to not know what’s up ahead. Just go for it… and by the grace of God you make it to the end of the season, everybody gets paid, and all the fish are well taken care of, and you’re done.”

Wlaysewski says by the end of July, she’d be happy to never see another fish again. But the feeling washes off quickly, like slime from Xtratufs. And when May rolls around again, she can’t wait to get back to cut fish again.

Categories: Alaska News