Our flight banked beside the National Mall on approach as the sun set orange over Washington, D.C. This was my first trip back since I left my job as a Senate staffer eighteen months before. Some of the fishermen flying in with me had never made this landing; some, like me, had seen it many times. This time I was a constituent representing my community, an Alaskan, and a fisherman. Much like before, my job on this trip was to connect Alaskans to their representatives in our nation’s capital. But now, I was also here to share my own story.
“My name is Jamie O’Connor and I’m a fifth-generation salmon fisherman from Bristol Bay,” I’d begin. “I was fortunate enough to grow up fishing with my parents and great-grandparents, which gives me a special, long view on what happens when you manage your resource for sustainable harvest. In Bristol Bay, it’s resulted in the largest, most sustainable salmon fishery in the world.” I’d pause, waiting for that fact to sink in before continuing. “And we maintain those runs through strong, science-based fisheries management. So, I’m here to ask that we maintain that focus in the Capitol, fund the necessary science, and use it to ensure that my great-grandchildren, and the generations that follow them, may benefit from the fishing culture and livelihood that has given me so much. Someday it will be their turn to feed the world.”
I repeated that introduction thirteen times over two days with varying deliveries to offices on and off the Hill. So did the eight other fishermen in our group. Each of our stories were a little different. Each supported the science-based management policy we’d flown 4,000 miles to discuss. And each story connected the staffer or Congress Member sitting across the table to our fisheries and our community in its own way. Sharing your story is sometimes all you can do to stand up for what you and your industry need, young fishermen. So don’t be afraid to trade out your slickers for a blazer once in a while. This work is equally important, and we can’t keep fishing without it.