'Hooked for life': stories from a Master Fisher

Jack Webster, IPNLF’s Master Fisher, shares his story of life on the ocean as a pole-and-line tuna fisher

A history at sea

I was born and raised in San Diego, California, and continue to reside there with my lovely wife Natalie. We are blessed with five children and five beautiful grandchildren.

As a captain, my great grandfather sailed “traders” to every navigable port in the world in the 1800s, but my own attraction to the sea and fishing started in my early teens when my father took me fishing in the mountains of the western US and in our local San Diego waters. This got me hooked for life – my parents could not pry me off the docks!

My love of the ocean

By the age of 14, I was working as a “pin head” – a crew member in training on San Diego based sportfishing boats. At the age of 19, I had the necessary time- at- sea requirements and passed the test to become a licensed captain. Soon after, at the age of 20, I captained my first commercial fishing vessel targeting albacore in the mid-Pacific, in what’s known as the Midway fishery.

My career at sea includes being captain of San Diego-based long-range sportfishing boats, commercial troll albacore fishing in the North Pacific, South Pacific, and the west coast of the United States. Essentially, for my entire adult life, I have made my living at sea, including 39 years as a captain.

Illusive tuna

The albacore industry started on the US west coast in the early 1900s. As a youngster I was intrigued by where albacore were caught and why they were there. Albacore can show up during the season from Mexico to Canada a range of about 2,000 miles north and south, and 4,000 miles east and west. As a fisherman, my question continues to be, why there? There are more variables to this equation than there are constants. The daily changes in conditions are what makes the pursuit of albacore so challenging, YOU HAVE TO STAY FLEXIBLE! Weather, feed, water temperatures, plankton levels, moon phases, and currents are just a few factors that play a role in the “why and where”. The best fishermen are those that can adjust to daily changes and use their instincts to stay on the fish.

Why one-by-one tuna?

In 2004, I helped co-found the American Albacore Fishing Association, with the purpose to tell the story of the US pole-and-line fishermen, establish a fair price, educate consumers on the fishing method being used, and deliver a quality product. AAFA’s successes have had a great impact on the US west coast albacore fishermen and their families. By creating awareness and telling the story of US pole-and-troll albacore, AAFA has helped them achieve a stable and fair price for their catch.

Awareness of this fishery reached a far broader audience in 2007 when it became the first tuna fishery in the world to be certified to the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability standard. This achievement put pole-and-line and other one-by-one-fisheries everywhere on the international stage, and really helped to start getting the word out to the masses.

In my time, I have had the great fortune to travel to several countries to work with local fishermen. What I have always found is that their passion, work ethic, needs, problems, and fears are similar to those of AAFA members. Looking ahead, my hopes for the future of pole-and-line, and the one-by-one fisheries around the world is to create more awareness as to who they are, the families they support, the crews they employ, and the role that they play in the sustainability of our planet’s resources.

It’s my belief that the importance of one-by-one/pole-and-line fisheries becomes clear as day once people are made aware of what they do. Around the world, these fisheries have survived on their own, with technological advancements taking them out of the public eye. But times change and the pressures confronting these fisheries are fiercer than ever. So as consumers everywhere learn more about one-by-one fisheries, so the demand that’s created will ensure the survival of these fisheries, and the families, communities and ports that they support, as well as their rich fishing histories.

My new role as Master Fisher

I am about to embark on an exciting next step in my life’s journey. In the near future, I will be able to take my interactions with the world’s one-by-one fishermen to another level thanks to IPNLF. A vehicle has been created for me to go and help one-by-one fishers with the challenges that they are facing, whether that’s at sea, on land or where the products are delivered.

The prospect of working with people of different cultures and learning first-hand all about their history, while helping to create sustainable fisheries around the world, gives me great joy. I can’t think of any other path in life that would bring me so much satisfaction. I am so fortunate to have a career that I love.

Jack Webster