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It’s not just a job – it’s a lifestyle.

Shalene McCollum

BIRKENSTORY #20

Shalene McCollum – an enthusiastic fisherwoman

Petersburg is beautiful. According to Shalene McCollum, this little town in Alaska is the best place in which to live. Like all the women in her family, Shalene has fishing in her blood – her grandmother was a commercial fisherwoman, too. She loves living according to the tides, even though a working day can frequently be 15 hours long. We paid her a visit and spoke to her about family and sustainability – and about how fishing led her to her first Birkenstocks.

A place where you feel safe 

Shalene grew up in the capital of Alaska, Juneau, but moved to the tiny town of Petersburg at the age of 20 for love. Shalene appreciates the town’s slow place and the openness of the people who live there. “Nobody locks their doors here in Petersburg,” she says with a smile. .

The women in Shalene’s family have been commercial fishers for generations, “… starting with my grandmother,” she explains. Her husband Kent is a fisherman too, of course. “And I’m now raising the next generation of fishermen,” says Shalene, referring to her two children Stellan and Mattea.

Respecting resources 

It is important to Shalene and her husband in their work that they maintain the fish stocks. “That’s always in the back of your mind: to be a good fisherman, to make sure that you are protecting the resource,” emphasizes Shalene. She knows this is important not only for her own family, but also for all the generations to come. “Everyone here is dependent on fishing, be it the family or the community. Without sustainability, there would be no fish left in a few years,” Shalene explains resolutely.

40,000 pounds – or: the early bird catches the worm 

Shalene’s workday usually starts at 4 a.m. and the fishing net is cast at around 6 a.m. There then follow approximately 15 hours of fishing – during which all kinds of things can go wrong. Such as in summer 2017, when the family experienced one of their most hair-raising moments. Out of nowhere, their net was filled with an incredible shoal of salmon. They weighed so much that the boat nearly capsized. “All I could think about was getting my kids to safety,” relates an animated Shalene. The boat only righted itself again when her husband cut a few of the net ropes. Not only was the family saved – so too was the majority of the catch, weighing in at 40,000 pounds.

The calm after the storm 

As much as Shalene loves her work, she is happy to get out of her wet work clothes at the end of a long day at sea. The best part is taking off her heavy gum boots and slipping on her Birkenstocks. “My feet are happy to finally be able to breathe again after a long day on deck,” she laughs. 

Fish and shoes 

Shalene encountered Birkenstocks at an early age: “I was probably about 15 years old and I knew I wanted a pair and I knew that that store in Petersburg carried Birkenstocks. So I knew that if I kept fishing for a few weeks, I would have enough money and I could go to Lee’s Clothing and buy my first pair of Birkenstocks. So that’s what I did.”
These days, almost everyone in Petersburg wears the sandals. “I think between the rubber boots and the Birkenstocks, that’s about all that I see people wearing,” says Shalene, grinning.

The recipe for contentment 

Shalene McCollum doesn’t need a lot to be happy. She believes in honesty and loves the simple things in life. And the most important things for her are her family and her daily experiences with nature: “I like that I can walk outside and pick blueberries off the bushes – I like the simplicity of it. I lead a fulfilled life.”

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