Judi Lehmann, originally from Minnesota, is a world traveler who calls Sitka home. For the last several years, Judi has been learning the art of fish skin tanning and sewing. Her journey began when she took a fish skin sewing class from Audrey Armstrong. Judi and the other students worked with whole fish donated by Sitka Sound Science Center to learn how to clean, gut, and skin fish. After stripping the skins off the fish, they are soaked in alcohol before being sewn into various items, such as bags, bowls, hats, and even dresses.
After learning the basics of fish skin sewing, Judi took a fish skin tanning class in Norway, where her daughter lives. Once fish skin is tanned, it’s soft and supple and feels almost nothing like a fish skin in its original state. And each type of fish skin has its own qualities. Halibut skin is heavier and therefore more difficult to work with, but it is either solid black or white, which Judi loves. Rockfish, she says, responds well to dye.
Her goal is to continue learning as much as she can about the intricacies of this craft. Eventually, Judi would like to share her knowledge with high school students and spend time teaching interested community members.
Fish skin sewing and tanning is one example of how to use every part of the fish and waste nothing. It is one of many ways that Alaskans celebrate the sea, and Judi is a part of continuing this tradition.
Judi is inspired by her father who was a conservationist. He spent years of his life protecting wetlands in northwest Minnesota. He bought land from farmers and ensured that its environment was conducive to wildlife through restoration work. She says the land her father worked to conserve is his legacy and something she wants to carry this on through her own work on Sitka Conservation Society's board of directors.
Judi’s world travels have also shown her the importance of preserving the Tongass National Forest so that salmon can continue to thrive. She says, “It’s a struggle…and you see what’s happened in the European countries. There’s no wild salmon there, there’s very little wild salmon. So it’s very critical that we’re preserving these areas.”
Alaska is the only place in the world where wild salmon continue to thrive, and it’s critical that it remains this way. Currently, Alaskans are working to strengthen the laws that protect wild salmon habitat. Currently, there is no definition of what constitutes “proper protection of fish and game.” This language is too vague to guide decisions on projects that have the potential to harm our salmon. By updating this law, we can ensure that our wild salmon runs remain healthy for generations to come.
To take action and Stand For Salmon, text SALMON to 877-877 or go to standforsalmon.org/action.