From Egegik Fish Camp to National Geographic Cameraman: A Conversation with Erin Ranney

Erin Ranney could be best described as a force of nature for the wild. At the age of 13, she started working on a fixed network operation in the Egegik area of ​​Bristol Bay. She fished alongside her aunt, who is a year older than her, and did her best to take on all the responsibilities that came her way. Erin had been to the fishing camp near Yakutat before when she was very young, but Bristol Bay was a whole different beast.

“It was full,” Erin said.

Erin is a third generation commercial fisherman from Bristol Bay. His grandfather fished all over Alaska and retired from the bay last year. Her mother-in-law still fishes in the bay. Erin’s dad started setting up nets in Egegik District when he was just 13, purchasing a site just a mile from where Erin is today. In one of his first seasons, he caught over 50,000 pounds of sockeye himself and bought a Bryant wooden drift boat and license. He later used the money he earned from fishing to get a college degree in biology. Both of her parents – her mother also graduated in biology – passed on to Erin and her siblings their love of the natural world, their work ethic and their commitment to conservation.

“Growing up, everything was a lesson in biology and science. My parents taught that if you want to take anything from nature, you have to protect nature and make things better for the next generation. Eventually all of my siblings, aunts and a few grandparents all fished on the same beach. No internet, no phone, the lack of connection with the outside world really brought us together. Fishing camp is a really cool way to grow up, ”Erin said.

A brown bear near Bristol Bay. (Courtesy photo / Erin Ranney)

Commercial fishing also provided Erin with the means to gain financial independence from a young age. After earning a scholarship for her undergraduate degree in Wildlife Ecology, she was able to use her fishing savings to pursue the career of her dreams. She had watched Travis Rummel and Ben Knight’s “Red Gold,” a documentary on Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Project. She was impressed with the film’s effectiveness in helping people care about the future of Bristol Bay.

Erin had a revelation: “I could spend eight years writing an article that not many people could read, but I realized that I could use visual images to share these scientific findings and conservation messages.”

She enrolled in a master’s program in animal documentary production in England. Subsequently, she returned to Bristol Bay and apprenticed with gator-wrestling and king salmon-whisperer, animal camera operator Mark Emery. Since then she has worked on films with National Geographic, BBC, PBS and other major networks. Erin remains busy in the animal film industry, but no matter how attractive a potential film offering is, she returns to her setnet site in the Egegik district every year. Her father and sister fish at the two sites closest to her. Erin loves the lack of connection with the outside world and the community that the fishing camp offers. Fishing has taught her a lot that she applies to the making of her animal films.

Erin Ranney films sea lions. Photo courtesy of Erin Ranney.  (Courtesy photo / Erin Ranney)

Erin Ranney films sea lions. Photo courtesy of Erin Ranney. (Courtesy photo / Erin Ranney)

“You learn that you can work in any weather and that you can do a lot more than you might think,” Erin said.

Erin is in the process of releasing her own movie. Her grandmother, Gayle Ranney, was one of the first female bush pilots in Alaska. Erin took six months off her regular work schedule to film four different locations in the Alaskan wilderness, including the

the Gulf of Alaska and Bristol Bay, where his family once camped and fished. Many years had passed since some of these places had been used. It was a crazy experience, she said, even though the post-shoot production work seems more difficult than the months she spent with brown bears, bugs and the often rough weather. Erin hopes the film will be released sometime next year.

Spawning sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay.  (Courtesy photo / MC Martin)

Spawning sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay. (Courtesy photo / MC Martin)

Erin’s favorite species to film is the brown bear. One of her most enjoyable encounters, which she filmed for her own film, was watching two subadults recently ousted by their mother learning to fish on their own.

“Each bear is unique and they all have different personalities. I don’t think I could ever get tired of working with them, ”Erin said.

Many fishermen would be happy to cash in and sell their farm if they had another rewarding way to earn a living. Not Erin. She hopes to continue fishing for as long as she can. Bristol Bay is an amazing place, Erin pointed out, and the fishing is rewarding and great for studying wildlife. Erin is devoted to salmon, brown bears and the people of Bristol Bay, and fights for a future for them.

“It’s important for so many people and for wildlife. These salmon feed more than 130 species. Even if you can never visit, it’s worth protecting it, ”Erin said.

• Pride of Bristol Bay is a free column written by Bjorn Dihle and provided by its namesake, a direct-to-market seafood fisherman who specializes in delivering the highest quality sustainably caught wild salmon from Bristol Bay at your doorstep.

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