Joseph Carlough Sr.

Joseph Carlough Sr. Photo by Jamey Bradbury.
Joseph Carlough Sr. Photo by Jamey Bradbury.

“I’ve been all over Alaska, but this is my home,” says 82-year-old CIRI shareholder Joseph Carlough Sr. of Seldovia. As a commercial fisherman, he fished the Bering Sea out of Adak. He fished Cordova and Chignik. He fished in Kodiak and lived through the tsunami swells that hit the island after the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. “That was something,” he remembers. “There was three big swells that came in. The first one, when it went out, it just drained the bay dry.”

Then, when he quit commercial fishing, he got a job with CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation, running boats for Kenai Fjords Tours for 11 years. Until just last year, he captained the fast ferry that runs between Homer and Seldovia.

A lot changes in 82 years, even in a tiny seaside village like Seldovia. Carlough saw the cannery industry grow to become the town’s greatest economic asset—and he witnessed its demise. “There were five canneries here, all along the waterfront,” he recalls. “We had a crab cannery and then for a while we had a shrimp cannery. It was quite a place, when all the fishermen would come in the summer, a couple thousand fishermen were here in the summertime.”

Working as a commercial fisherman took him all over the waters of southern Alaska and gave him a legacy to pass on: Both of his sons are now commercial fishermen. Carlough’s grandchildren and great grandchildren, meanwhile, have mostly settled in Anchorage. He doesn’t blame the young folks for moving away.

“There’s not much going on in Seldovia,” he admits. “There’s not a lot of jobs around here. In September, it folds up. You might as well shut off the lights here. There’s nothing here for young people, that I can see, unless they’ve got a job down at the Tribe. The young people will stay here if there’s a job for them.”

Still, he notes, a new hotel has opened up, with year-round accommodations; maybe that will help kick-start Seldovia’s tourism. And maybe more tourists will mean more jobs—and more opportunities for younger folks to stick around. “There used to be quite a few more people here when I was growing up, then it just faded away,” Carlough remarks wistfully.

His own wife works for the Tribe, which is what Carlough says keeps him in the village. “I wouldn’t mind moving, but my wife likes her job. If my wife retires, we’ll probably move.”

Now that he’s retired himself, he looks forward to the days he and his wife take the ferry he once captained across the water to Homer; they drive north up the highway to visit their family, then come back to Seldovia, where things move at a more leisurely pace.

What else does he like to do? He shakes his head. “All I’ve done all my life is just work and fish.” What about church? someone asks him and gestures to the old Russian Orthodox church.

“That church only gets used a couple times a year,” he says. “The priest comes down from Kenai. And then sometimes they have a funeral there. But it’s not open very much; it’s pretty nice inside. I never really was a church guy. They’ve got another church down on the end here where everyone goes on Sunday. I stay away from there.” He gives a low chuckle. “The ocean is my church.”