A trade as old as human existence, yet now more challenging than ever before, the industry of commercial fishing is not for the meek in spirit, but for those who can endure. And for the few that make it, the reward is great. Third-generation commercial fisherman, John Derek Weise, has followed his family legacy, planting his roots in the waters of the deep, but as an entrepreneur and idealist, he has taken his family legacy to a new level, cofounding Sixty North Seafoods, a wild Alaskan seafood processor, dedicated to merging high-quality products with sustainable fishing practices for a better environment. We were honored to have the opportunity to tell John’s story, and hope it inspires you toward creation.
Introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about what you do.
John: I’m John Derek Wiese, a commercial fisherman and one of the owners of the newest seafood processing plant in Cordova, AK — Sixty North Seafoods. I live in a pretty special place in the world that I’m lucky enough to be able to use as a resource to make living on.
What is the dynamic of coming from a commercial fishing family?
John: It seems like a majority of what we always talk about and do is somehow fish-related. I’m lucky enough to pretty much see how my dad, uncles and grandfather did it and learn from that — someday hopefully do it better than they did. I have my dad, uncles, cousins out on the water fishing for themselves and their families, and this past season my mom was back in town helping run my new seafood processing plant. When we see each other out on the water we look out for each other. Overall, we are independent fisherman but we definitely observe if someone is making good or bad moves and talk to each other on the radio about it. We look out for one another. I think that, and communicating about how our boats and equipment are doing, what the weather is doing and also what we see the fish doing, gives us an edge. It’s something not many fishermen are lucky enough to have.
What does a day in your life look like?
John: During the fishing season it’s pretty much spent mostly preparing for the next run of fish. Usually that means making sure my boat and equipment won’t fail me when I’m out on the water trying to catch fish. The time frame we are allowed to fish can vary throughout the season, but most recently we only have 12 hours a couples days out of the week to try and catch fish.
What makes for a good fisherman?
John: Grit...grit is what gets you through most days.
Most of us are consumers of your arduous labors, but have no idea what it is that you actually go through. Tell us what it’s like to be a commercial fisherman.
John: For me, I love being out on the water. I love to catch fish. Being a commercial fisherman pretty much means you need to be a jack of all trades. When it comes to maintaining your boat and equipment (and sometimes needing to do so while out on the water) it often means you have to be your own mechanic, electrician, plumber, and at the same time, fisherman.
The biggest hardship for me is being away from my family for almost half of the year. It’s hard on your personal life and family life. It’s hard on my wife and girls. Learning how to be without your family and loved ones for long periods of time will always be the hardest thing for me. I know that aspect isn’t just hard on the fishermen, it’s hard on the whole industry. Processors, crewmen, lineworkers, and owners all sacrifice a lot of time to be part of this business.
What is the draw that brings you back to sea?
John: I really like the competitiveness. I want to be the best. I want to catch the most fish. I grew up seeing my dad, family, friends and the community thrive on fishing, and I honestly want to be the best.
Is there a particular moment or story you can recall that stands out as most memorable?
John: The first year I had my own boat and own permit, I rolled it over in the breakers on a day that I shouldn’t of been fishing on. It was awful weather, as it usually always is, and a pretty nasty ground swell flipped my boat backwards. I had my cousin on board, we went overboard, lost the boat and ended up needing to swim to shore in our rain gear and rubber boots. We ended up getting picked up by the coast guard helicopter later that day. Shortly after, an old timer told me that you can catch more fish in 50 years than you can in one. On days where I feel like risking more than I should in order to catch more fish, I think about that.
you own 60 North Seafoods. Can you tell us a little about that?
John: We are a team of experienced and dedicated fishermen, combining our talents and expertise to bring you the best premium wild Alaskan seafood. Essentially we provide fish directly from our fisherman to the consumer. These fish come out of the water the best fish in the world, our job is to just keep them perfect until they arrive on someone’s plate.
What do you do in your spare time?
John: I spend time with my family, wife Amanda Rose, Genevieve Rose and Victoria Copper and try to spend as much time in the woods as possible. I love to hunt, fish and trap. Pretty much just enjoy the Alaska outdoor lifestyle.
who is your hero?
John: My dad.
bourbon or rye?
John: I’ve enjoyed a decent amount of both this year, but bourbon is my go-to right now.