Subsistence herring harvester dies in Sitka boating accident

Theodosius “Dosy” Merculief. (Kootznoowoo, Inc. image)

One Sitka man has died and another sustained injuries after being thrown from their skiff while subsistence fishing for herring eggs on April 9.

Good Samaritans played a critical role in the rescue, which took place less than a quarter mile from shore.

41-year old Theodosius Merculief — known to family and friends as “Dosy” — was pronounced dead at the Mt. Edgecumber Medical Center shortly after he and his companion, 43-year old James Jensen, were pulled from the water near the Starrigavan boat ramp.

Tom Climo, who works in Sitka’s harbor department, and was traveling with friends to a cabin for the weekend. It was 12:30 in the afternoon, and they had run about a quarter-mile from the Starrigavan ramp when one of the women in his party, Camila Gomez Duclos, spotted the empty skiff, which was turning tight circles at high power.

Climo at first thought she was talking about an actual whale circling, making a bubble net, which is a common sight in Sitka Sound this time of year.

“Actually she had said, ‘Look! There’s a whaler doing circles.” Climo said. “Like brodies. With no one in it. We went over to it and realized someone’s got to be in the water somewhere. And we’re looking around, and Emmett looked way out — maybe a hundred yards — and all of the sudden there’s this arm coming out of the water and it’s waving, and we jetted over there.”

Emmitt Andersen spotted the victims. The man waving his arm was James “Jimmi” Jensen, who was holding onto Merculief. Climo says that Merculief was already unresponsive, and that he was wearing a float coat and hip waders. Climo held Merculief’s head above water while Jensen was brought aboard. Then the boat’s skipper, Terry Perensovich, maneuvered to retrieve Merculief.

“Terry’s got a drop bow, so he put the drop bow down, but we had to slice his hip waders, because there was so much water in them, they were really heavy,” said Climo. “And we brought him around to the front of the boat, and were able to get him up on the deck.”

Climo and Perensovich’s brother, Gary Perensovich, along with Andersen, performed CPR on Merculief, for the 8-minute boat ride back to the Starrigavan boat launch. Camila Gomez Duclos tended to Jensen, assisting him into dry clothes. Another member of the party, Nicole Duclos, had summoned help, and the boat was met first by Sitka police officers, who assisted with CPR until the arrival of EMS personnel.

After the victims were transported, Climo says his party resumed their camping plans. On the way out, they saw that the Boston Whaler skiff had apparently run out of gas, and they were going to tow it back, but an Alaska State Trooper vessel instead arrived to retrieve it.

In an email to KCAW, troopers said they are investigating the possible cause of the mishap.

Jensen and Merculief were believed to have been harvesting herring eggs on branches — a traditional subsistence food — at the time of the accident. Climo says that there were signs in the skiff of egg harvest, but no branches.

Dosy Merculief leaves behind his partner, Natalie, and three children ages 13, 5, and 16 months. A GoFundMe campaign was started on Saturday for the family. It has raised just about $27,000 so far.

Read next