nancy behnken, f/v dipper
Nancy Behnken has been fishing out of Sitka since 1981. After graduating from college in Vermont, Nancy came to Alaska on a kayaking trip with three friends, including fellow Fishery Conservation Network (FCN) fisherman Dan Falvey. After exploring much of the Southeast, the group headed to Sitka to meet up with another FCN member, Terry Perensovich, and began looking for work with the Sitka fleet. Nancy finally gained a spot on the F/V Semidi fishing for black cod.
That first deckhand job lasted about three weeks, and Nancy earned a meager $250. But she realized she liked the work and the lifestyle. Since it was the end of the season, the group of friends headed to Haines for the winter, and returned to Sitka the following year. Nancy then worked as a longline deckhand on a number of boats, moving around throughout the season and within various fisheries.
Nancy now runs her own boat, the F/V Dipper, which was originally a gill-netter built in Oregon in 1987. By the time Nancy purchased the boat, it had been converted to a salmon troller. She recently made more alterations and is hoping to begin longlining halibut soon. Nancy has learned boat maintenance and repair as she's gone along, and feels indebted to her extended "family" of fishermen who have helped teach her how to care for her boat.
The F/V Dipper runs with one crew person, and over the years Nancy has worked with an array of great deckhands, including her nephew, Colin, and many locals. She sells her catch almost exclusively to the Sitka Producers Coop, after carefully cleaning and icing each fish, ensuring good quality and grading marks on her product.
Coming from a sailing family, Nancy's love of an ocean-oriented lifestyle seems natural. She says she enjoys running her own operation, especially having freedom over her own schedule, which has allowed her to explore much of Southeast Alaska, making the entire area feel like her own backyard. She also has supplemented her income over the years by working as a carpenter and artist. Her wood engraving are very popular, and a great way to spend down time from fishing in the winter.
Check out this video Nancy's nephew, Colin, made when he was her deckhand in 2012.
Story: Ashia Lane