Toby Sullivan |Kodiak
Commerical fisherman, writer and Museum Director, Kodiak Maritime Museum
“The hard conversation I’m having, both within Alaska and with people I know in the Lower 48, is about how we are going to survive on an earth that’s only 12,000 miles in diameter. We can’t grow our way out of the dilemma, but a significant proportion of the population is not giving up on that idea. How do we move forward? Do we do it with the consensus of these people?
Salmon are totally wrapped up in this discussion because there is a growing understanding, certainly in Alaska, but in the rest of the world too, that salmon are indicators of the health of northern ecosystems. When salmon disappear from a watershed or a lake, it becomes obvious that the system of which they are a part of has been degraded.”
Toby Sullivan moved to Kodiak in 1974 at age 19 and began working as a commercial fisherman. He purchased a commercial setnet salmon operation in Uganik Bay on Kodiak Island in 1983 where he continues to fish every summer. In 2002, he began working at Kodiak College, first as an English and math tutor, and subsequently as an English and creative writing instructor before beginning to write professionally. His poems and nonfiction essays have been published in various places including the Alaska Fishermen’s Journal, Anchorage Press, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Dispatch, as well as several literary journals and anthologies. Most of Sullivan’s written work is about the lives of commercial fisherman, with a focus on the physical and emotional impacts on fishermen and the people around them, including wives, children, and the community at large.
From 2004 to 2006, Sullivan traveled to Iraq as an embedded reporter for the Anchorage Press with the U.S. Army and U.S Marine Corps. He has participated as a writer and performer at the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon from the program’s inception in 1998 to the present, and also produced and participated in many other Fisher Poets live shows in Kodiak. For the past decade, Sullivan has been the Executive Director of Kodiak Maritime Museum and has also served as the President of Northwest Setnetters Association, representing the interests of commercial salmon setnetters on Kodiak Island.
“I’m hoping that this program will help expand my experience of the community of Alaska beyond Kodiak, where I’ve lived my entire adult life,” he says, “and through that, help me live beyond the circumference of the life I’ve lived so far. At some point in the last couple years I started thinking about doing something worthwhile besides fishing every summer and running the museum every winter, and this program presents that opportunity. I’m not entirely sure what to expect, except that the Salmon Fellows program promises to stretch my abilities. It’s a special chance. I’m in the mood to stretch.”