Like any story worth telling, it started with a dream.
A $2500 investment and then they were off to go fishing. They were 21 years old, in love, and studying at Western Washington University to become teachers. They’d only known each other for 10 months when they got married.
Kind advice led Jay and Becky Haun to become members of Seafood Producers Cooperative in 1974. Integrity, pride, and the 7 cooperative principles were what guided them, though they didn’t know much about fishermen’s cooperatives when they joined. “There was a certain honesty and humility among co-op members that we appreciated. Others told us that we’d get the fairest price for our fish as cooperative members, so we joined,” Becky tells us. Members until 2011, Jay served as a board member in one way or another with Seafood Producers Cooperative for 26 years (1987-2011). That is true commitment!
What was essential to sticking with the cooperative during those years was a sense of belonging. Co-op members look out for each other, which is important when working on the rough waters around Southeast Alaska.
They might not have had a lot of money during some of the tough years, but they considered themselves rich. They had each other. They were working hard and were satisfied. They raised 2 kids—Ryan and Carie—on the boat.
How does one raise children on a 42-foot boat, you might ask. “You tie them to a line with a carabineer,” Becky tells us. “The kids wore a sailing harness. One end of the rope was attached to the harness that went over the kid’s shoulders and under their crotch. On the back there was a carabineer that hooked to the harness and the other end of that line was tied off on the boom of the boat. They could fall in but only their feet would get wet and we could easily yank them back in. We were on the HELEN HINTON [the Hauns’ boat] when the kids were babies and I can still feel that hollow freaky feeling when I could not see them on the boat. The boat was only 42 feet and looked like a cruiser with lots of windows, so losing sight of one of them was almost impossible. But it happened and of course I panicked. And yet, they never went out of the cabin onto the back deck or float without a life jacket. That became second nature to them. We also gave them swimming lessons at a very early age. We were flexible and made adjustments. We learned a lot together. We learned how to be a family.”
Big fish, white beard. Jay Haun with a king salmon.
From about fourth grade on, Becky’s dream was to be a teacher. But she hitched her dreams onto Jay’s and followed his dream to be a fisherman. “And history became mine. And people couldn’t believe how strong it made me or how the fishing family lifestyle became a part of my identity.”
And indeed she has lived that dream. Some people dream of sailing through the Inside Passage just once. Becky has done that close to 80 times. Each year, back and forth, for the nearly 40 years she spent fishing in Alaska with her husband Jay. At first on the HELEN HINTON, but later on the sturdier Cinnabar, now owned by 3-generation co-op member Jaycen Andersen.
As it is for other writers, writing about her life is what helped Becky to make sense of it all.
“Last night at the P-Bar” is a story about missing the girlfriends she had who had a life for themselves on shore. The P-Bar is the fishermen’s bar in Sitka, and an evening there with her girlfriends reminded Becky that her life was on the boat. Fishing. With her husband.
Becky’s story, “A Life is a Promise” is haunting. About a near-death experience near Point Gardner, a treacherous spot on the Inside Passage where the Chatham Strait meets Frederik Sound and small fishing boats are at the mercy of the whim of the wind, tide and currents. Timing is of the essence and a ferocious howling wind could brew up in the snap of some fingers. She was 32 years old, had been married for 11 years and her first thoughts were with her children and then her husband. It was at that moment that she made a deal with God. She would give her life to God in exchange for the lives of her husband and children. When the Hauns made it out of that jam, with the help of another fisherman, Becky kept that promise. She gave her life to God.
In 2000, Becky was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which meant that she and Jay would fish less and less. There was too great a risk of her falling off the boat. As awful as it sounds, though, Parkinson’s “was a blessing in disguise. It gave me a sense of purpose. The miracle is it gave my life back. Now I’m able to focus on what matters. On the relationships I have. I’m able to look back at a life that has been a dream.”
Seafood Producers Cooperative helps fishermen live their dreams. We process the fish of small boat family fishermen and then market that fish for sale on the AlaskaGoldBrand.com website where you can find premium-quality seafood, caught by hard-working American families.
To hear Jay’s wonderful voice introduce Seafood Producers Cooperative, watch the video below.
Living the Dream, A Fishing Family’s Lifestyle, is the story of Jay and Becky Haun and their life fishing together as Seafood Producers Cooperative members. Becky is working on putting her stories together to publish a book on living the fishing lifestyle as a woman and what it’s like to raise kids on a boat. Here’s her poem “Gurry, guts, and halibut.”