Troller Dan Falvey Named 2011 Highliner of the Year

National Fisherman will honor two Alaskans at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle this weekend.

Bill Webber, Jr., of Cordova, and Dan Falvey of Sitka will join San Francisco’s Larry Collins as the magazine’s 2011 “Highliners of the Year.”

The honor is not necessarily about amount of fish anyone lands. Instead, the magazine’s editors describe the trio as “bona fide innovators and men of action, each in his own way.”

Falvey is the fourth Sitka fisherman to be named to this elite roster – and he seemed a little surprised by the recognition. KCAW’s Robert Woolsey enlisted the aid of a 2007 Highliner, Eric Jordan, to explain what it means to have your picture on the cover of National Fisherman.

Falvey:“I’m a longline fisherman and a troller. And I think there’s a lot of people out there who catch more fish than I do. So, I’m not quite sure why I was chosen.”

That’s Dan Falvey. Just about everybody gets it but him. Here’s Eric Jordan.

Jordan:“It’s not about how many fish you catch, or whether you were the top dog. It’s about what you did to contribute to the future of the fisheries.”

Falvey:“I got into fishing because I was up in Alaska on a summer adventure and ran out of money in Sitka. Hopping on a fishing boat seemed like the best thing to do. After a while on the boat, I got good enough at my duties on deck to look around and actually see what an amazing place Alaska is, and what a unique perspective you have as a fisherman. Being out there day in and day out, you’re no longer an outsider looking in, you become part of the natural processes.”

Falvey’s Alaska adventure ran short of cash in the 1980s. Not too long after, he went back to school to earn a Master’s Degree from Western Washington University in Resource Management and Policy.

Issues that may frustrate anyone else are Falvey’s sweet spot.

Jordan:“I was always really impressed with how clear Dan’s thinking was on complex fisheries management, sharing, and conservation issues. He had a gift for analyzing and articulating the most complex issues in a way that helped clarify it for all those working with him.”

Falvey began salmon trolling on the Sea Boy, which had once been owned by Sitka’s first National Fisherman Highliner John Mahr. Now, he runs the 47-foot freezer boat Myriad.

Falvey“I think after trolling for a lot of years you just realize that, by moving into the freezer I was able to create a better product, and stay out and follow the fish up and down the coast, instead of having to come back into town all the time. And so it gives you a certain freedom to stay out there and watch the run build and ebb, while you’re creating one of the highest-quality products possible.”

Falvey is too young to have participated in the upheavals that shaped the modern salmon industry. But he’d have his opportunity in groundfish. Falvey and 2009 Highliner Linda Behnken have been the brain trust behind the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association – ALFA — for most of its existence. Behnken would serve three terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council during some of its stormiest years. Falvey served on the Council’s advisory panel.

When the spray had settled, Eric Jordan says the book had been re-written on halibut and blackcod fishing in Southeast, and not just the book on Individual Fishing Quotas, or IFQs.

Jordan:“The collaboration of him and Linda Behnken has been one of the great teams for our industry. When he was on the advisory panel, and Linda was on the council, they worked together to really change the fisheries in Southeast. Everybody knows about the IFQ deal – but one of the biggest things he worked on with Linda was taking the groundfish trawlers out of the federal waters of Southeast Alaska. That has changed the whole ecosystem here in Southeast for the better.”

Recently, ALFA has branched out into research. Falvey is helping administer several concurrent grants studying issues ranging from sperm whale depredation to an onboard electronic observer program that could save the small boat fleet – and the taxpayer – money. Falvey hints that this work is a relief from the bluster of fisheries policy.

Falvey:“What I have most enjoyed is working with the innovation and natural problem-solving abilities the fishing fleet has. To apply those skills to address some of the issues we face. And I also like working with the scientists and the managers of our industry to try and integrate the perspective that the fishermen gain by being out there day in and day out, with the perspective that the fishery managers have. I think when you bring those two perspectives together you each can learn from each other, it helps create a long-term sustainable future.”

Jordan:“Sometimes the mantle just falls on you. And you don’t choose it, as much as you choose not to avoid it. It comes to you almost as a responsibility. And somebody with the gifts that Dan has – I think it wasn’t so much a choice as it was a calling.”

Dan Falvey has a wife, Cathy, and two kids, Emma, 12, and Jake, 9. He says they’re becoming more and more of a fishing family all the time.

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Robert Woolsey is a reporter at KCAW in Sitka.