Story last updated at 5/13/2009 - 11:29 am
It took not one, but two retirements for fish biologist and guide Loren Flagg to finally sit down and write about his life in Alaska. Flagg, 67, retired from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game 22 years ago, and as a Kenai River fishing guide two years ago. His book, "Fish, Oil & Follies" comes out this week.
"I guess this is what got me going on the book," he said in a phone interview this week from his home in Kenai. "In my first year of retirement, my wife (Sandra) said to me, 'Why don't you write a book?' I was sitting around with nothing to do."
Although the book begins with Flagg growing up in Elmwood, Mass., much of it concerns his life in Alaska. Flagg came to Homer in 1969 when Jim Rearden, then area biologist for commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, hired him to be his assistant. Rearden wrote the introduction to "Fish, Oil & Follies."
Since he had been a boy fishing and hunting in eastern Massachusetts, Flagg had always wanted to come to Alaska. An Elmwood friend once gave him some old copies of Alaska Magazine.
"I started looking at those, and it just blew my mind," Flagg said.
In his senior year in high school, Flagg had written Jim Brooks, then the director at ADF&G, about getting work in Alaska. He was told to finish college and write back in four years. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Flagg wrote Brooks again, and was told to get some experience as a fisheries biologist. He worked almost four years doing research in the Everglades in Florida and another year with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries at Sandwich on Cape Cod. One day a telegram came from ADF&G: Would he like a job?
Flagg came to Homer at a pivotal point in Kachemak Bay's history. He started first as Rearden's assistant and then later became area biologist for commercial fisheries -- jobs that put him in the hot seat of commercial fisheries politics.
One of Flagg's better chapters gives a first-hand account of the oil leases and eventual buyback in Kachemak Bay. Homer commercial fishermen had protested oil leases - some right in the middle of crabbing grounds - and then fought for the state to buy the leases back.
In 1975, Standard Oil of California planned to bring the oil drilling rig George Ferris to the bay to start exploratory drilling. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing was held in Homer for the permit. In "Fish, Oil & Follies," Flagg describes the testimony of Bill Bledsoe, a Homer crabber. Bledsoe deposited a huge king crab in front of Col. Charles Debelius of the Corps of Engineers, the chairman of the hearing.
"'That's a king crab, Colonel,'" Flagg writes about Bledsoe's speech. "'His brothers and sisters and cousins are still out there in the bay. I know how they feel because I've been in touch with them.' When Bledsoe finished his testimony, the Colonel eyed the mouth watering evidence and asked, 'Ah, Mr. Bledsoe, may I keep this crab?' Bledsoe replied, 'Hell no, I can get 10 dollars for that!'"
Flagg said the oil companies tried to woo Homer with slick presentations.
"They were somewhat taken aback by the knowledge of the Homer people who gave it right back to them. That (the oil lease buyback) was a huge victory for the fishermen and the people who care about the environment."
Flagg moved to Soldotna to take another ADF&G job, and then retired in 1987 under an early-retirement program. After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in March 1989, then Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Don Gilman appointed Flagg chairman of the Multi-Agency Coordination Advisory Council in Homer, a group tasked with overseeing spill cleanup in Kachemak Bay. He tells that story in another chapter of his book.
"I was there during the most intense part of it, the first six weeks," Flagg said. "That was a very stressful time."
The stories in Stan Jones and Sharon Bushell's "The Spill" reminds him of his own experience.
"Reading those stories, I found many people had similar reactions as I did - the stress," he said. "You'd look across the table and there'd be tears welling up in people's eyes."
Flagg had written a column, "Environs," for the Homer News in the mid-1970s as well as some articles for Alaska Magazine. Tom Kizzia, a former Homer News managing editor and Anchorage Daily News reporter, gave Flagg some advice about his book.
"I tried to make it more personal. That was one of Tom's comments after the first draft -- try to put in more of my personal feelings."
"Fish, Oil & Follies" is $17.95 and also is for sale online at www.publicationconsultants.com.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.