Bloom is a bold captain, notes her boyfriend, Brian Delay, 28, a crewman in his fourth season with her. Other captains, he says, "see this five-foot-tall redhead" setting her net in front of them, "and, whoa, they get mad." Bloom recalls an angry captain once yelling at her, "If you want to screw me so bad, why don't you take off your raingear?" She enjoys such reactions. "It kind of messes with their heads to see me out here."
Though top boats may catch as much as 300,000 pounds of salmon in the two-month season, Bloom's goal is more on par with the average: 100,000 pounds. "With 100,000, you're in the black, you're making a living," she said. At 2008 prices, that would have worked out to about $68,000 gross, less roughly $12,000 in overhead and another $17,000 for her crew. Of course, some seasons, a blown engine or other unforeseen cost will burn through any cushion pretty fast. But fishermen are gamblers, and the fishery still offers the chance to make a good chunk of money in a short time. "It could be more," Bloom told me, "but I can't complainfishing paid for my house, fishing helped pay for grad school."
As we motored west, Bloom kept an eye out for anything that might suggest fish were near. "What I really like is the strategy. Watching the wind and the tide and trying to figure out what the fish are doing."
Despite being born to it, Bloom is not a typical Bristol Bay fisherman. She hunts and fishes but also teaches yoga, and onboard she's as likely to dine on Thai Kitchen noodle soup as a pile of roe pulled fresh from a salmon's belly and fried with lemon pepper. She pursues a sustainable lifestyle; salmon fishing fits into that, and so do moose and deer steaks in the freezer.
One tool she'd been using in the Pebble fight was the product: the salmon itself. She was experimenting with a "fresh market" idea, off-loading freshly cleaned fish in Dillingham and having them shipped to customers in Juneau, at a premium price. "In surveys I did, people were way more concerned about the environment than the fishermen," she said. She thought if she could get them to identify a quality product with the pristine environment it came from, it might help the cause.
The mine's presence could pose a marketing problem if consumers come to identify it with a polluted area, but the site is more than 100 miles upstream from where fish are caught. While it could affect the ecosystem immediately, it would likely take years for any pollution to damage the run itself. But for Bloom, the generation-to-generation continuity, and her desire to see the fishery continue, makes the fight more urgent. "For me," she said, "what's at stake is whether or not my children will know what it's like to live by tides, winds, and the life cycle of salmon."
The next day, the crew of the Erika Leigh got into the first "hot" fishing of the season. "It's a great morning!" said Brian, down on deck, working a tangled fish out of the net while Johnny Cash played from speakers in the pilothouse. "Wait, is it morning?" It was 2 P.M. "Well, a good early afternoon. I don't know what time it is, but that net's got some fish in it!"
Bloom was beaming. "I find many fish for my boys! Yes?"