José A. Alvarado Jr.

Photographer
 
Under the Great Bear
Location: New York City, New York
Nationality: Puerto Rican American
Biography: José A. Alvarado Jr. is a Puerto Rican photographer dedicated to documenting class inequality, civic engagement, and contemporary issues in Puerto Rico and New York City. He works primarily in long-form storytelling, using visual imagery... MORE
Public Story
Under the Great Bear
Copyright José A. Alvarado Jr. 2024
Updated Jan 2024
Topics Agriculture, Animals, Climate Change, Documentary, Environment, Essays, Landscape, Lifestyle, Photojournalism, Portraiture, Sports, Wildlife
Summary
One hundred and forty miles north of New York City, nestled in the rolling mountains of the Catskills, lies an eight-hundred-foot-long eel weir operated by the infamous Eel Man.



Under the Great Bear; Amongst the Smell of Apple Wood Smoke
One hundred and forty miles north of New York City, nestled in the rolling mountains of the Catskills, lies an eight-hundred-foot-long eel weir. At the apex of the wall rising out of the flowing waters of the East Branch Delaware River, bleached, twisted, and weathered sits a handmade fifty-foot-long wooden trap, referred to as the “rack”. This structure occupies the same area of the river that has had a weir on its riverbed for over a century. What is the contraption's purpose? To capture the American Eels that live in these waters. The engineer of the weir is an elderly fisherman in late his 60s. A stern-looking man with weathered skin, a smoky-colored beard down to his chest and always sporting a traditional pakol hat, a hat gifted to him by a US soldier when on tour in Afghanistan. Locals call him “The Eel Man” and he has been fishing river eel on the East Branch Delaware River right outside of Hancock, New York for over thirty years.

A veteran himself, serving in Panama during the Vietnam War, Ray "The Eel Man" Turner looked for ways to re-assimilate into civilian life. He began by working odd-job construction projects around the area. Over a few years following the death of his twin brother, Turner searched for a solitary life that led him to the eel weir and became its maintainer. Over a few decades, Turner has made his livelihood out of catching and smoking American river eel and selling it out of a small cabin with red peeling paint on his property. This year, however, the weir had experienced one of its most historically low harvests to date leaving Ray “The Eel Man” Turner contemplating hanging his waders up for good, closing his famous eel weir, and retiring from the eel business entirely.

This project is a glimpse into the unpredictability of life on the river, and the daily work that goes into running his famous smoke shop “Delaware Delicacies” as it stands for the moment with its doors open on the outskirts of Hancock, New York.


Selections of images published in "End of an Era" for Anglers Journal on January 8, 2024

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Under the Great Bear by José A. Alvarado Jr.
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