Julianne Curry, United Fishermen Association's new executive director, stacks fishing net on the back of a vessel near Noyes Island.
Julianne Curry, United Fishermen Association's new executive director, takes answers emails in between unloading halibut and black cod sets in Clarence Straight near Ketchikan.
Curry slices the cheek meat out of her halibut catch.
Story last updated at 1/30/2013 - 2:12 pm
J ulianne Curry has a natural affinity to make sure things are done well, justly and in the best interest of a common good, even if that means doing them herself. As the recently appointed new executive director of the United Fisheries Association, she's given herself no choice. She has to call the shots. A lot of different kinds of shots.
It seemed clear, after her first week on the job, that commanding the helm of an organization whose mission is to represent the interests of hundreds of individuals, businesses and associations vested in commercial fishing in some capacity was a task for which she felt quite groomed.
Curry is a fourth generation Petersburg resident and a fourth generation fisherperson; her great grandparents moved to Petersburg before Alaska was a state.
"My upbringing was pretty incredible," she said. "My parents raised all three of their girls on the water. We fished with my dad when we were teeny tiny things."
Curry began fishing full salmon seasons with her father when she was about 14. She continued to fish the summers with her dad through high school, adding halibut fishing to her bag of tricks when she was 16.
"We were raised to make sure we could take care of ourselves, that we were earning money, and were self sufficient," she said. "It's a pretty incredible way to grow up."
She graduated from high school in 1999.
"Pink salmon prices were at all time lows," she said. "People weren't making a living, or their businesses weren't viable and they had to get out of the industry. It was a really tough time."
In high school Curry said that when people asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, her answer was always the same.
"I wanted to single-handedly save the salmon industry," Curry said.
Curry is tough and seasoned but she is also extremely personable and persuasive. Those later traits may be natural, but were ones she was certainly aware would assist her high school dream. Which is, in part, what influenced her decision to major in marketing, a degree she earned at Northern Arizona University.
"Having a marketing degree is helpful in a lot of aspects in business and life," Curry said. "It's handy."
The salmon industry recovered while she was in college. Upon graduating, her plan was to fish a couple more seasons in the Southeast and the move to Seattle and get a marketing job.
"I wanted to be able to market seafood, help explain to people how our seafood is some of the best seafood in the world," she said.
After one of those seasons she and her dad took his boat, the "Jean C", (a 58-foot seining vessel named for her mother), down to a ship yard in Seattle for a three-month stint working on upkeep of his vessel.
Curry listed off a few items on their agenda:
"New engine, paint, mechanical problems," she said. "It's kind of like bringing your car into the shop and getting a thorough tune-up, only you're really dirty the whole time and it's really hard work and it takes a long time and can be really frustrating."
What was also frustrating to her was the lifestyle she glimpsed in Seattle, the city she thought she'd eventually call home.
"Being around all the people, driving to the ship yard, being away from the wilderness and the fishing grounds, I realized that wasn't something I wanted to do," Curry said.
She spoke from her new office, in a blue building adjacent to the State Office Building in downtown Juneau. She has long straight blond hair. As she recalled her realization that her Seattle marketing job was no longer her Plan A, she pursed her lips and put her mental finger on another ah-ha moment.
"It was about that point in time it started to occur to me that I actually could make a living commercial fishing," she said.
She felt a stigma associated with commercial fishing, that it wasn't really thought of as a way to make a living.
"Despite being born and raised in a location where fishing is the community's mainstay of local and regional economy," Curry said, there was still this nagging interpretation of the business.
"It's not something you want to grow up to do as a career," she said. "I'd been living with that for a long time. I was fighting that; a lot of people fight the stigma."
She took a step back, reviewed her life and skill set and realized she could make commercial fishing her career.
"It's not just a lifestyle and a way to pay bills but it's an actual career and one to be proud of," she said.
After bringing the "Jean C" back up to the Southeast, Curry was preparing for a herring season when the position of executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association was open.
"We were putting herring gear on the boat," Curry said. "I changed into my interview clothes on the boat, did my interview, walked (back) down to the boat, and put my coveralls back on."
The PVOA, according to its website, is a "Multi-gear, multi-species advocacy group that monitors and acts on current issues that affect the fishing industry."
Though Curry had no prior professional experience in fisheries politics, she got the job. She was 25. She credited both her fishing experience and her degree.
"I was pretty enthusiastic," she said. "A lot of my background in the fishing industry was ideal. It was something I was passionate about. I like fishing. But my marketing degree is helpful."
Throughout her six and a half years with the PVOA, Curry continued to fish halibut, black cod, salmon and herring.
"I was fishing close to year round," she said. "When I wasn't physically on the boat, I was in the office, and my laptop and cell phone came with me (on the boat), so when we were in port I was doing business."
It paid off.
Curry said she made it a priority to grow the number of members belonging to the PVOA.
"That came easily to me," she said.
The PVOA had around 65 members when she took the position, and she saw that number grow to more than 100 vessel owners that participate in 15 fisheries by the time she left.
Her position on the PVOA included working as a board member for the UFA, including PVOA's role as the subsistence chair for the PVOA. She also attended Alaska Department of Fish and Game Board of Fisheries meetings, International Pacific Halibut Commission meetings and she sat on the advisory panel for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. She traveled a lot.
"There are some pretty amazing personalities and individuals and backgrounds involved in fisheries managements and politics," Curry said.
But she was ready for a change.
"I wanted to see what else was out there," Curry said. "Working for PVOA was one of the best things I've ever done. It was an amazing job, and it was such a privilege to be able to work for that group of people, to learn about all the different fisheries throughout the state through the different meetings I got to attend."
Mark Vinsel had been the executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska for more than eight years.
"I think eight years is an ample amount of time in that role," he said. "It's good for the organization to move forward."
The UFA has a similar mission as the PVOA, "To promote and protect the common interest of Alaska's commercial fishing industry, as a vital component of Alaska's social and economic well-being," according to the website, though it represents and is comprised of individual members, business with ties to the fishing industry like fuel and gear suppliers, as well as organizations like the PVOA.
Vinsel announced he was stepping down in 2012, and the UFA board, which included Curry, began the search for a replacement.
Curry said the recruitment process was lengthy, aided by a siesta during the heaviest annual fishing period that begins in the spring, as many candidates were out fishing. When the hiring process regained momentum this past fall, the UFA board had narrowed the candidates down to three in September, a group that included Curry. The board convened to listen to the three candidates give presentations and to vote in October. Curry excused herself from that process.
"What I told the board, and what I was adamant about, was that I didn't want the position because I wanted to win a popularity contest or (because I) had been involved on the board," she said. "I only (wanted the position) if the board thought I was the best person for the job."
Apparently her fellow UFA board members thought she was the best.
"They called me as soon as they were done with their deliberations," Curry said. "I ran back from the AFN convention, and we continued business as soon as I got back."
She officially started her position at the executive director of the UFA on Jan. 2.
"I'm really excited to see what we can accomplish," Curry said. "Just having the expanse of the membership, the knowledge base and the different fisheries that are represented here."
Curry said that the UFA has the ability to illustrate how the state fisheries beneficially affect the state as a whole, economically and in other aspects. "We're providing seafood for the world. And it's some of the best on the planet."
With just a month under her belt, Curry said her new position is one of the best jobs in the world.
"There's nothing like it. It's so stinking cool."
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.