With his dark-rimmed glasses, Jonah Knutson doesn’t look like the salty fisherman.
But he smells like it.
“I’ve got a distinctive old wooden boat smell,” Knutson says. A combination of boat diesel, pine tar, linseed oil and turpentine. And chum salmon guts.
Knutson grew up in West Seattle, son of a commercial fisherman. Twelve years ago, he revamped his dad’s old boat and has since spent fall nights on the twinkling waters between Bainbridge and Seattle. He’s one of about 40 gillnetters who fish here.
The Area 10 chum fishery, where he fishes, has the night shift, 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. The chum fishery goes from mid-October to mid-November, and it's a sideline to his Alaska season.
"Runs in Puget Sound are wildly inconsistent, owning, I would say anyway, primarily to habitat degradation," he says.
In southeastern Alaska, where he spends eight to 10 weeks, runs are between 20 pounds (a bad day) to 5,000 pounds of salmon (a much better day).
Photographer Mike Kane spent a night on Knutson's boat, christened Loki, last October, toward the end of the fishing season. These are his photos.
Knutson is 36 and married with two cattle dogs.
Knutson attended the UW and lives in South Park now. “I’ve been local my whole life,” he says.
They go way back as a fishing family, although a few generations skipped the business. His grandma’s family history involves fishing in Norway. Her grandfather had a boatyard on Eliza Island in Washington state.
Knutson keeps a kettle on for tea – green, black or peppermint – and sometimes coffee.
Rain gear, bibs, jacket. Under the rain gear: sweatpants, sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off to avoid getting saturated with salt water and fish guts.
Knutson fishes all five species of Pacific salmon – chum, chinook, coho, pink and sockeye. Mostly, though, he catches chum, also known as keta or dog salmon.
He says his favorite is pink salmon, but that may be a trick of the mind. “I might have tricked myself into believing they’re my favorite because they’re so cheap.”
He works alone or with a deckhand. On the day Mike Kane took photos aboard Loki, he worked with Joe Burnison, his oldest friend. Burnison is also a longshoreman; his dad is a retired longshoreman.
Only tribal members and non-tribal sports fisherman are allowed to fish in Elliott Bay. Other fishermen fish between Bainbridge and Seattle on either side of the shipping lanes.
In the time that he’s been fishing, he’s watched the Seattle of his youth change dramatically.
“Seeing it become as wealthy as a city as it has, it’s alienating,” he says. “I feel like it’s not the place I grew up. I honestly wonder long how I am for this town.”
But most of his family lives here, which would make it hard to leave.
“It’s harder to drive to fisherman’s terminal every day, especially when the viaduct’s out,” he says. “But it’s home; it’s got all the home stuff, good and bad.”
He also aims to keep fishing.
“It depends on ocean acidification, climate change, market change – as well as my own interests,” he says. “For right now, I want to keep fishing.”