By Rebecca Settar
If you’ve spent any deal of time on Nantucket, chances are you’ve at least heard the name Jimmy Sjolund, and for good cause. This sixth or seventh (or maybe even eighth, he’s not quite sure) generation Nantucketer is always up to something interesting, whether it’s working on his house, fishing, or boating. Or tending to his most recent project: restoring a 36-foot lobster boat he and friend Matt Anderson just sailed down from Maine. Given this busy schedule of hard-earned fun, it’s difficult to believe he leaves the island for as much as three months at a time. When not on Nantucket, he serves as first mate with Alaskan Leader Fisheries, cod fishing off the coast of Alaska.
We manage to grab a minute of this two-time lifesaving award recipient's time for a quick chat about what it’s like to spend so much time on and off Nantucket, and what he loves so much about coming home.
Shellfish Association: What do you love most about being a Nantucketer?
Jim Sjolund: I like the small knit community of fishermen on the island…. which sadly is getting smaller. In the summertime, my favorite thing is the freedom of the beaches and the access we have here. You’re not looking at parking fees, you can just pull up to any beach you want. If that disappeared, it would probably almost ruin Nantucket, and I probably wouldn’t be here otherwise.
SA: Tell us more about this lobster boat project you’re working on!
JS: Well, I was looking to expand a bit more on fishing from home. This lobster boat can be used in a number of different fisheries or could be modified to do so. I think there is a lack of locally caught fish and shellfish on Nantucket, so I’m hoping to someday fill some of that in.
SA: Why is the Nantucket Shellfish Association important to you?
JS: It’s one of the few groups trying to help the commercial industry. The association has some great ideas and with that, some power to make changes, especially where it is too difficult for an individual to do so.
SA: Water quality and climate change are hot topics right now. Why is water quality so important in the harbors here?
JS: Largely it is so important for the life of small animals and organisms that are at the bottom of the food web. A very important part of water quality for the island is to have healthy eelgrass beds which bay scallops need to survive when they are very young. The issue we have been seeing more in the recent years is algae smothering our eelgrass.
SA: We know you like to fish recreationally as much as you like to do it for a profession. Any go-to summer recipes you like to make?
JS: I like to make a good seafood chowder. I’ll put everything in there - scallops, fish, sometimes quahog, imitation crab, shrimp, potatoes, onions, usually half and half or heavy cream… I keep it thin, so it’s more of a stew than a chowder. If I make it for a party or something, it seems to disappear.
SA: What is the food like when you are on the Alaskan fishing boat?
JS: Honestly, we have pretty good food on the boat. We have 25 crew members so the cook we have makes 75 meals a day. He’s busy! Plus, he does the laundry and cleaning with the help of a steward. But we get fed some pretty good stuff.
SA: What is it like to leave for as long as three months? Do you have plants? A dog? How do you manage this?
JS: Originally, when I was single, I had my house all set up so I didn’t have to do anything. I had fake plants so I didn’t have to water them. [Jimmy laughs.] But now that I’ve been seeing my girlfriend Leah [Mojer], we have real plants that she waters and we have a dog. Leaving for that long is just something I have been doing for so long, it’s not a big deal. But you are always catching up on the stuff you couldn’t do when you were gone. Even just pulling a couple weeds out of your driveway is something that doesn’t get done when you’re gone.
SA: Is there any secret benefit to being away so much?
JS: The big benefit of being on the boat is I have zero expenses when I’m there. I still have regular bills for my house but when I’m on the boat there’s no living expenses.
SA: Ned Claflin, before he moved back to Nantucket, told us that the first thing he’d do on island is swing by Henry Jr.’s for two sandwiches, one to eat on the way home and one to eat once he’s home. Do you have any likewise traditions for what you first do when you return home?
JS: Usually it’s laundry [laughs]. I don’t have a get-home routine. I see how big my stack of mail is and go from there.
Jimmy is currently cod fishing in Alaska for the next few weeks. When he returns, we wish him luck with the laundry and look forward to lobster boat updates!