Jim Hoff (Shaa Tlein) dances with Yees Koo.oo at the Juneau Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Jim Hoff (Shaa Tlein) dances with Yees Koo.oo at the Juneau Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Maritime Festival celebrates Juneau’s connection to the ocean

Fears over ferries present at event

A collective “ooh” arose from a small crowd at Saturday’s Maritime Festival when Mike Eberhardt pulled out his Ulu knife.

Eberhardt has heard about the salmon filleting competition at the annual festival for years, but hadn’t participated until Saturday. He eschewed the fillet knives that festival organizers have available, instead choosing to use the traditional knife.

He stood across the table from Kaneisi Leha, who had long watched her family members fillet salmon but hadn’t done it herself before Saturday. The two carved into their salmon as a crowd watched closely, murmuring about each one’s approach and success.

Mike Eberhardt fillets a salmon at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Mike Eberhardt fillets a salmon at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Leha finished first, putting her knife down and her hands up as a few cheers arose. Eberhardt took his time, saying afterward that he cares more about the quality of the fillet than the speed.

“I’ve always said, ‘Oh I need to come down and do this,’” Eberhardt said, “even though I know I’m not going to be the fastest.”

The contest has become a mainstay at the festival, which has been an annual event for 10 years now. The event included dancing, musical performances, a staged helicopter rescue from the U.S. Coast Guard, regular mini-cruises and more.

The event, organized by the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC), is a celebration of Juneau’s various maritime industries and organizations. There was a bit of a new wrinkle this year, as members of the Inlandboatmen’s Union were there advocating for the importance of the Alaska Marine Highway System in the wake of massive proposed budget cuts to the system.

Anthony Distefano, a union steward for the Inlandboatmen’s Union, talks to attendees at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Anthony Distefano, a union steward for the Inlandboatmen’s Union, talks to attendees at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Anthony Distefano, a union steward for IBU, manned a tent where people could pose for photos and sign a letter to the Legislature demanding better funding for the ferry system. IBU members were also telling people about their upcoming rally at noon Tuesday on the Capitol steps.

“People are just bewildered by why this is even happening in the first place,” Distefano said. “Mostly what I hear from people is (the Legislature) needs to save the system and fully fund the ferries.”

The Maritime Festival has more than doubled in size since the first one a decade ago, from around 20 vendors to 47, JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said. People streamed in for the full six-hour event despite the cloudy, drizzly day.

Mike Eberhardt fillets a salmon at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Mike Eberhardt fillets a salmon at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Attendees had the docks to themselves Saturday, without a cruise ship docked nearby. Holst said that wasn’t a coincidence.

“We still work very hard to do it on a day when there are no large vessels in town so that this is really directed towards Juneau celebrating something important about Juneau,” Holst said.

Leha was one of those locals, making her way to the festival for the first time. She stood near the salmon filleting competition, watching her daughter bounce from tent to tent.

“I love it,” Leha said. “I have my 7-year-old here with me and she’s out there collecting all the free stuff that she can get. It’s an awesome thing.”

Kaneisi Leha fillets a salmon at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Kaneisi Leha fillets a salmon at the Maritime Festival on Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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