Arne Fuglvog '86 and Robert Thorstensen '86

Standing up for fisheries

Arne Fuglvog ’86 and Robert Thorstenson ’86

By Dexter Van Zile '87

Commercial fishermen don’t need a college diploma to make a living, but a degree and the knowledge that comes with it sure helps when you’re trying to have an impact on the way fishery resources are managed. Two UPS graduates, Arne Fuglvog ’86 and Robert Thorstenson Jr. ’86, prove the point.

“Both of them are very astute and have a good sense of how to get things done,” says Tom Gemmell, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska.

Fuglvog, a native of Petersburg, Alaska, fishes for about 145 days a year, then spends another 50 representing fishermen in several capacities. He is president of the Petersburg Vessel Owner’s Association, a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management advisory panel, and sits on the International Pacific Halibut Commission Research Advisory Board, among other responsibilities.

Fuglvog says the work for the halibut commission is the most demanding. “I approach it the same way I used to get ready for finals,” he jokes. “There are sometimes thousands of documents I have to read, understand, and pick out what’s important so that I can speak confidently. I’m glad I took those science and math classes.”

Fuglvog was tapped for the research board because the commission wanted a working halibut fisherman to help scientists decide what research needs to be done.

He was a good choice, says Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “Arne is an extremely creative thinker. He’s a very quick study. He reads everything we send him, and he understands it. That’s not to be sneezed at.”

Fuglvog’s committee work also requires a fair amount of writing and public speaking—good liberal arts skills he didn’t expect to use as a commercial fisherman.

“That’s one place where my UPS education comes in handy. You have to be able to write well,” he says. “And public speaking—you have to get up in front of the council with hundreds of people in the audience. It’s a real challenge.”

While Fuglvog toils at behind-the-scenes committee work, Thorstenson, a salmon fishermen who grew up in Petersburg and now resides in Seattle, is well-known for his experience dealing with the press whenever a controversy over salmon allocation erupts in the region.

His baptism by fire came in the spring of 1994, when Canada imposed a $1,500 transit fee on Seattle fishing boats as they passed through the Inside Passage up to Alaska. The transit fee was imposed by the Canadian government to draw attention to the interception of Canadian fish by U.S. fishermen in American waters.

Thorstenson skippered the Pamela Rae, one of the first boats to head north that spring, and he used the opportunity to hammer one point home: that the Alaskan salmon fishery harvested hardly any Canadian fish. It took a while, but as time passed, the message got out in both the Canadian and American press, demonstrating that he was a good choice as the Alaskan representative to the Pacific Salmon Commission, which eventually settled the dispute.

The controversy taught Thorstenson an important lesson about the press—the side that gets to reporters first usually wins the public relations war.

“At first we all thought the media were crooked,” he says. “That wasn’t the case at all. The other side just got there first with their Cliffsnotes version of what was going on.

“I should have been a communication major,” Thorstenson jokes. “[If I had been,] I might have been better at it at the beginning, but I learned as I went along.”

As a result of his high-profile work on the U.S.-Canada salmon treaty, Thorstenson was tapped to serve as president of the United Fishermen of Alaska. The UFA represents a diverse group of fishermen spanning a coastline of 1,400 miles. People don’t always agree, but somehow Thorstenson is responsible for giving a unified voice to them all.

“Geographically, Alaska is like eight states combined,” he says. “It’s like trying to reel in fishermen from Georgia and have them ally with fishermen from Maine.”

Thorstenson credited the business skills he learned at UPS with helping him deal with another big problem facing the Alaskan seafood industry—a terrible need for marketing. Because of the increasing popularity of farm-raised salmon, the price for wild-caught Alaskan salmon has decreased substantially in recent years. One response Thorstenson is helping to formulate is a campaign that touts the benefits of wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

“This should be an easy product to sell,” Thorstenson says. “It’s one of the few food products on the market that hasn’t had anything added to it. Wild Alaska salmon are untouched by human manipulation.”