norm pillen, f/v sherrie marie

Norm Pillen has been fishing for 38 years, beginning as a skiff deckhand for his stepdad shortly after the family moved to Ketchikan in the early 1970’s. They began halibut fishing from skiffs, and soon switched to a 35’ double-ender. A move to Port Alexander in 1975 opened new opportunities, and Norm bought his first hand troller at age 16. He’s been, well, hooked, ever since.

Over the years, Norm also worked as a deckhand on longline boats between troll trips, and enjoyed both styles of fishing. He has owned six different boats, working up in size and hold capacity over time. He now runs the F/V Sherrie Marie, and fishes for sablefish, halibut, Pacific cod and some rockfish.

Norm primarily sells his fish to the Seafood Producer’s Cooperative because he believes in its long-term investment policy and support structure that benefits the fishermen. Norm and his crew of three take special care of their fish, bleeding each one as it comes on board. They quickly move the fish from deck to insulated hold in order to maintain quality, something the co-op helped instill in Norm over the 30 years he’s been a member. Norm works alongside his crew, hauling gear and overseeing operations, but says there are definitely times he’d rather not be the boss!

Norm estimates he is away from home about half of each year, fishing the Gulf of Alaska and going as far as the Pribolof Islands for halibut. His wife, children and grandkids are based in Washington on (or near) the family farm, and travel to various ports to visit Norm whenever possible. They don’t typically join the crew for fishing trips, especially as his daughters suffer from seasickness. Norm says it is hard to be away from his family so much, but he can’t picture himself working in any other field. He left school in 11th grade, eventually obtaining a GED, and held other jobs in the early years of fishing, but soon realized his passion is fishing: "[It’s] what I know, what I grew up doing. It’s who I am.”

And, it's what he cares about. Norm is a board member for the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association and works with the Fishery Conservation Network, recognizing the importance of responsible resource management. He worries about sustainability, and feels that communication between all involved parties - fishermen, buyers, politicians, advocates - could be improved. Norm hopes that he's setting a good example through his care for the resource, and is glad to have the opportunity to share his product directly with consumers. As Norm says, "resources advocacy can start at the dinner table!"

Photos and story by Ashia Lane