While women on fishing boats are no longer a rarity, there are still very few who dare to take on a career of the captain – for buying a boat and a fishing license is no small investment and a lifelong commitment.
Hollis Jennings, a deceivingly frail thirty-one-year old from Kentucky has been fishing in South-East Alaska for almost ten years.
Halfway through her first fishing season she knew that one day she will have her own boat. Ambitious and determined, she worked her way up for the first six years while building strong friendships and making essential connections in the salmon (purse seining) fleet.
Four years ago she felt ready to take on a loan and purchase her own boat that she named after her two younger sisters Natalie and Gail.
The hardest thing for a skipper each season is to assemble a great crew of fishermen who will be ready to push personal limits and work in harmony with each other. Hollis is known to hire more women than other captains, although she denies doing it on purpose. There was a crew of four women and two men on the boat at the time I was there. According to the locals, it was the first time ever the women outnumbered men on a fishing boat.
Twenty hour work days past the point of exhaustion in a wet environment, often in bad weather and harsh waters, while hands are being split and sliced by nets, ropes and the fish itself – the job is not for the faint of heart.
On the other hand, swayed by the striking natural beauty of Alaska, the simplicity of life, and the sense of personal challenge many people stay on the boat for a lifetime.