National Fisherman

July 12, 2022

Families in the village of Newhalen on Lake Iliamna sailed with the crew of the restored Bristol Bay fishing boat Libby 76 to experience how salmon fishing was under sail in the early 20th century. Scott Bartlett picture.

The restored Bristol Bay fishing sailboat Libby 76 arrived at Newhalen, a village midway on Lake Iliamna, when the news came of the record-breaking sockeye salmon harvest.

As the historic double-ends sailed into Newhalen, the crew learned that the commercial fleet is now on the borders of western Bristol Bay due to record numbers of sockeye salmon. Through July 9th the harvest of sockeye salmon is now at 53.8 million sockeye salmon.

Back in the early 1900s, when double-end sailboats were the only type of fishing vessel allowed in Bristol Bay, Alaska fishermen were given a lower limit than their out-of-state competitors. This did not fall into good soil with the local fleet and was ultimately one of many factors that led to local fishermen being more confident, including pushing for the use of engines.

But today the locals were happy to see this historic sailboat sail into their village. Upon arrival in Pedro Bay, the crew of Libby took 76 families out sailing on the double tender so they could share with their hands the same experience of their fathers and grandfathers.

The real treat was to take turns with children at the helm – to steer the boat the same way their ancestors did. While the children steered, their relatives shared stories of when these historic boats once sailed in these productive waters.

All this confirms that the Libby 76 provides a unique moment of living history, while the salmon shows the world what ultimate sustainability looks like.

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