Cordova Chronicles: Fishing permitted

Another commercial fishing season is here, and the race is on to get those potentially lucrative “marker” sets.

Back in the good old days, a series of signs designating where fishing was prohibited were placed on posts across the Copper River Flats or typically nailed to trees near various streams and bays on Prince William Sound.

At one time, the Protection Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game even had “stream guards” camped near prime areas to prevent encroachment.

“Jumping the gun” to get the first set of an opener was always a tense moment, as was pushing the “line”.  Back then there were no satellites in the sky to provide exact times and locations. 

Doug Pettit, Buster Platt, and Dick Shellhorn display Fishing Permitted signs used to fool other Prince William Sound seiners back in mid-1960. Platt family photo

Today closed waters are often given by GPS coordinates, sometimes creating patterns of invisible lines that can be challenging to discern for the less technically minded fishermen.   

One almost longs for the good old days, and some of the colorful stories that resulted. 


For example, there was the gillnetter out on the Flats that was busted for being inside the markers on an extreme low tide. He pleaded his case by saying the tide was so low that even when he stood on the top of his bow picker’s cabin, he couldn’t see the markers.

The judge wasn’t buying it. 

Ironically, what brought back personal memories of seine markers was a recent visit by Doug Pettit and Jacob Borodkin of Copper Highway Heating to install a new Toyo heater in our home. 

Buster Platt, Doug’s dad, was good friends with Olaf Gildnes, and in the mid-60’s Buster was captaining the F/V Darlin while Olaf skippered the  F/V Fairmont.  Both craft would be considered small by today’s standards.

Buster had his entire family, plus a dog, crammed onto their boat.  Dick Renner, Chuck Mossington, and I were Olaf’s crew. 

Seining back then was a fulltime job, with openers running from Monday at 6 a.m. to Friday at 9 p.m.  There were no hatcheries, and often much of the Sound was open, resulting in a far broader dispersal of the fleet than is seen these days.

Making 16 to 20 sets in a day was not uncommon. 

Saturdays were spent cleaning the boat and mending gear, and then usually tying up together with other seiners to shoot the breeze. 

Sunday was a day to sleep in, and then begin looking for a good round-haul to start the Monday opener.

During one weekend, we were tied up with the Darlin.   On Sunday we scouted together and found a nice batch of fish jumping and finning off a rocky beach.  We checked the charts, and also looked for markers, but the fish had schooled up near a waterfall that was fair game. 

So we dropped anchor, and set about waiting for Monday morning.

Well, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and especially so for fishermen with a sense of humor, and a nice haul at hand.

Fearing other boats would notice the same fish, someone came up with the bright idea of creating markers to post in trees near the fish, albeit cleverly saying “Fishing Permitted” in bold print, with finer print underneath saying “By order of the Dept. of You’ve been screwed.”

Seiners would go by, look at the signs with binoculars, and then motor on.

Doug said he thought he had a photo of that chicanery somewhere, and sure enough, a few days later, it popped up on my computer.

Funny thing. Neither one of us could remember how many fish we got out of our first set the next morning.

Maybe we all were laughing too hard.

Fortunately, despite the photograph evidence, surely the statute of limitations applies to a 55-year-old  prank.

After all, we were notifying anyone who was interested that legal fish were available.