The Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Nome now has an ocean-worthy vessel: a first under the current area manager’s 19-year tenure. Not only will ADF&G have more opportunities for research with this boat, but it also exists as a unique memorial to two former employees from the Norton Sound region.
“It’s pretty quick, actually, because right now, I’m only going about between 3,500 and 3,600 RPMs [revolutions per minute], and we’re still only doing 20 miles per hour.”
Kevin Clark is ADF&G’s assistant area manager for the Norton Sound area. Clark has spent extensive amounts of time on boats during his long career with the department. But in his new position at the Nome office, he is once again the captain of a speedy fishing boat.
“We’ve taken it on a shakedown cruise to Unalakleet, and it took us nine hours to get over, and we got back in 5 ½.”
“We couldn’t be more pleased; (it’s) a beautiful boat, 30-footer. Twin outboards on it, really safe boat, and the (Alaska State) Troopers will be using it for enforcement.”
Jim Menard, ADF&G’s area manager for Norton Sound, first arrived in the region 19 years ago. At that time, Menard says the department’s need for a suitable seaworthy boat was already apparent.
“All’s we had for boats were herring skiffs, back when we had a herring fishery. Those were good boats for close to shore, but I didn’t like venturing more than a few miles off shore. I think they kind of turned into coffins with outboards if you got caught out there…”
With help from Sam Cotton, former commissioner of ADF&G, Scott Kelley, former director of commercial fisheries division, and former DPS Commissioner Walt Monegan, Fish & Game secured the necessary funding for a new boat.
Menard says the department was close to purchasing one last year, but finances fell through.
“Things were looking really good, but then, in the budget situation when we went to the administration, it got cut out of the budget. That was a crushing blow. I became pretty cynical; it was kind of a frustrating thing.”
Despite Menard’s cynicism, after repeated attempts, ADF&G appropriated money from its own budget to help pay for a new boat to be built and barged to the Norton Sound office earlier this summer. According to Menard, the total cost to ship it from Homer to Nome along with a trailer was $240,000.
In mid-June, Fish & Game employees took the vessel on its maiden voyage across the Norton Sound to visit two communities in particular.
“When they went down to Unalakleet with that first haul, they did pull into Elim, anchored up, and allowed the family of Joel to come down and see the boat. Then, they got into Unalakleet, and Peter’s family also got to see the boat.”
The department chose Peter-Joel as the name for the Norton Sound watercraft, to honor Peter Nanouk, Jr., of Unalakleet and Joel Saccheus of Elim. Wes Jones is Nanouk’s brother-in-law, and he also worked alongside both men during his time with ADF&G.
“They were both fisheries technicians, but they both worked for the department for many years and were an integral part of their operations in Norton Sound. So, it’s really nice that the State is honoring them this way.”
Jones describes Nanouk and Saccheus as ambassadors for the Norton Sound region who passed on knowledge to new Fish & Game employees, with a smile on their faces.
“On a personal note, Peter… I spent many hours in boats fishing, and in a goose blind with (him). I know it means a lot to the family that the name (Peter) is there.”
Charlie Saccheus of Elim is Joel’s uncle. Charlie says everyone knows the last name Saccheus; it’s well known along the coast. So, naming a boat after Joel is fitting. Charlie described Joel as always smiling and kind of quiet. Everybody loved Joel said Charlie.
Unfortunately, both fish technicians were not alive long enough to see Fish & Game’s memorial to their work. Saccheus passed away in 2014, while Nanouk died in a boating accident two years ago. Instead, Nanouk and Saccheus’s memory will live on through the Peter-Joel as it navigates through Norton Sound waters.
As for the capabilities of the boat, the Peter-Joel is well suited to pull crab pots, with a hydraulic generator on board and lots of horsepower. Menard says the department plans to do research and tagging with this new boat during an upcoming fish project.
“We’re going to be tagging offshore, catching chum and silvers; we’re going to be tagging them and see where they end up getting caught or what rivers they end up in. So, we are going to do those tagging studies; we’ll to be doing tagging studies with crab, and so this opens up a lot of things.”
The local Alaska Wildlife Trooper is also looking forward to using the Peter-Joel for enforcement purposes on the water.
Menard says Troopers have not used the boat yet, but they are coordinating with Fish & Game to take it out sometime in the near future.
Image at top: The new boat, Peter-Joel, purchased by the Department of Fish & Game for the Norton Sound area office. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM (2019).