Getting to Craig: Was it Just the Fish?

There is a reason for almost everything. Yes, of course, Investor skipper Mark Coulthurst came to Alaska for the fish. The deeper reason was less obvious than it appeared.

In 1974 a federal District Court judge by the name of George Hugo Boldt handed down a landmark decision, later endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The judge decided that the terms of United States treaties with native Americans in Washington State legally entitled them to a greater share of the annual salmon catch. Entitled them, the judge said, to as much as fifty-percent of the annual catch.


Commercial, non-treaty fishermen were outraged and sued. For a while, rulings by the Washington State Supreme Court — and defiance by state agencies and non-treaty fishermen alike — prevented enforcement of the District Court’s ruling.

But Mark Coulthurst could see the writing on the wall. The federal courts kept turning back the non-treaty commercial fishermen. And the effects of a fully-implemented Boldt decision would hit close to home. In the District Court judgment, the Lummi Nation received access to new fishing grounds, and the new fishing grounds were practically in Mark’s back yard.

Fearing economic devastation, he left the comforts of the Puget Sound fishery for the unknown waters of southeast Alaska. At least, he reasoned, the judge’s decision didn’t extend to the fish in Alaska.

Their first season up there, Roy Tussing remembered, was a lesson in humility. The weather was miserable and it seemed they spent most of their summer in raingear. A cohort from Bellingham, who had also managed to get a southeast license after the Boldt decision, sold his permit and left within a week. But Mark and his crew toughed it out.

Roy Tussing on board the Investor (1982, courtesy Doug McNair)

They would come back next year, they vowed, with better gear and more knowledge. They did, taking an aging boat and turning it into a first class purse seiner. And soon enough, Mark Coulthurst was kicking in to help rent spotter planes and hanging out with the highliners.

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2018). All rights reserved.


Order “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press.

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