Named for the brown rubber boots with hefty soles popular among fishermen, the zine Xtra Tuf is a richly tinted window into the fishing industry’s turbulent culture. Its creator, Moe Bowstern (not her original name), is a 20-year veteran of Alaska’s salmon, herring and crab fisheries, who spends half the year in Portland, Ore., and much of the rest of the year at sea. As a deckhand (the most lowly of crew jobs) and a woman, the 38-year-old Bowstern offers an unusual perspective, one seldom seen in newspapers or books.
Xtra Tuf tackles labor disputes, fisheries history and politics, and basic information about the mechanics of nets, boats and gear. The five issues created in the past decade are filled with personal typewritten stories, interviews, photocopied union press releases, poetry, photos and drawings. The zine "gives a flavor that isn’t caught elsewhere," says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, based in San Francisco. "So much of our history isn’t recorded or it’s piled into some standardized text; this helps people better understand where (fishermen) are coming from."
Xtra Tuf is designed to appeal to anyone who enjoys a good story or is intrigued by West Coast fisheries, but it also aims to connect fishermen, a generally solitary species, offering them a place to share ideas or simply vent about the season. "This lady from Cordova used to write really long letters and she’d sign them, ‘Crazy Aunt Julie,’ " laughs Bowstern, threading a finger tattooed with a fish through her straight brown hair. "I’ve gotten cryptic postcards from some kid who signed them all ‘Marlin.’ "
A fiddle player with an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in creative writing, Bowstern became hooked on fishing when, at 18, she followed her older sister to Alaska to work as a cook on a boat. Since then, she’s straddled the two very different worlds of fishing and the arts. "There’s more life where the beach runs into the ocean or any two ecological zones meet," says Bowstern. "Hopefully, because I’m both a fisherman and an artist, I’m able to reflect back fishermen’s lives in a richer way."
Rebecca Clarren is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.
Find Xtra Tuf, $5 or free to commercial fishing women, at microcosmpublishing.com. To contribute, contact Moe Bowstern at P.O. Box 6834, Portland, OR 97228.