Oral History Interview:
John Nicholson was born at a Bristol Bay cannery in 1906. He spent his youth at similar facilities throughout the area. John explains the ebb and flow of certain communities and the factors which influenced human settlement of the region.
John began fishing as a boy of 12 years. He took great pride in both his hard work and success as a fisherman. He describes fishing out of the cannery-owned sailboats which formed the backbone of the industry for many years. His matter-of-fact description of living on the small boats conveys the message that men of that era were a tough and hardy breed. Prices paid for fish have risen and fallen over the years. Nicholson can remember a time when he received the grand total of five cents for each salmon he delivered to the dock. John describes his fishing-related work for the canneries, building small boats and 'hanging' nets. Nicholson shares his views of salmon population dynamics. He was a firm believer that predators (belugas, seals, seagulls, etc.) heavily impacted the salmon resource.
Nicholson was also a dedicated trapper from an early age. Beaver and fox were his primary targets. John credits the local Native people for teaching him how to trap and explains the simple sets which he learned and perfected. He used a dog team for transportation on his 'line and lived in tents when trapping beaver. Nicholson clearly remembers taking a furbuyer up one of the local rivers on a trip over 60 years ago. They returned with 800 beaver hides in his boat.
Nicholson recalls the debate over statehood for Alaska and explains his preference for the status as a territory. He critiques the state legislature and "outside" fishermen who don't have the best interest of the resource at heart. His views on the subsistence controversy are well-stated. He bemoans the intervention of the federal government into state management of its natural resources.
Fishing and trapping constituted the focus of John Nicholson's entire life. He speaks with candor of an era when life was both simple and hard.