Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fishing 101

It occurs to me that I didn't even attempt to blog after our last offload. Clearly a sign that I'm close to the end and the status quo simply continues. We were supposed to only be processing a few hundred tons this time out in a "partial" however in the perpetual spirit of "surprise! our office bought more fishing quota and we're out for a more than half full trip. If I hear one more person say "Just a few more days" I'll be throwing myself off the bow.
I realize we toss around a lot of lingo up here. Allow me to shed some light on the mystery that is commercial fishing.
A-season - mid January though April
B-season - June through September
Round Fish - fish that comes in the net, before processing
Cod End - front of the net, what actually holds the fish, up to 100 tons of fish, can cost up to $200,000
Over the Roller - see round fish
Fresh Fish - new blood in the crew
Live Tank - holding tanks for the round fish before it is sorted
A few more days - eternity
Product - end goal, see below products
Surimi - water, sugar, reject meat concoction to make a filler used in most meat products in American. I.E. fish sticks, chicken nuggets, imitation crab... cat food
Mince - REALLY crappy fillet with skin and tail
Roe - egg sacks, the supposed money-maker of A-season
PBO - Pin Bone Out (of the fillet)
Pin Bone - back bone
PBI - Pin Bone In (less money, crappy fillet)
PBI (B) - Pin Bone In, along with a minimal amount of parasite and skin
Deepskin - money-maker, meatier fillet
Off-Load - taking product off boat via conveyor belt and loading it in semi-trucks, this is when they give me the tape gun.
Back-Load - rigging pallets of packing fibers, food, and other supplies to the crane and stocking it in the boat through a bow hatch.
Trip - fishing excursion out of Dutch Harbor to fill hold with product
Crew Share - the individual % of crew % taken from total profit. Ranges from 2-3 for processors and raises .2 every 6 trips.

Our boat holds about 1,100 tons of finished "product" and we fully "off-load" this every time we come onto Dutch. This happens at the end of every "trip".
There's your Fishing-101 for Alaska. Not very glamorous but it's what we think about every morning when we wake up. Is there fish? How much? How many tons left? Lot of roe? Is back-load done?
We aren't the Deadliest Catch crew. We don't work 3 days on end but we do pull 16-hour shifts consistently, usually with some jokes and smiles to keep each other going. The money is not what it's fabled to be but works for a nomadic girl in her mid 20's with minimal bills.

Happy Spring everyone!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise

Third off-load complete! This season we're planning on 4 and a partial trips soooo that means I should be back in Seattle by the end of the month. Yes, THIS month! After raiding the sea yet again we headed full steam ahead for Dutch. Literally. When that happens it is inevitable fillets will be flying. The floor is continually ripped out from under our feet and I am reminded yet again of why this job actually is hard. There is no "Let's bag it up and start again later". In a show-must-go-on attitude, we process until the very last Pollock fish is safely filleted and resting in the deep freeze. Frustration is rampant and tempers flare but I remind myself that I'm here on my own accord. Clean up ensues and the smiles come out again. The last 3 hours of the offload (which entails me standing on the dock with a tape gun) were hellacious. Tape just doesn't stick to soaking wet cardboard and refuses to adhere when applied by frozen fingers. Again, another swift reality check that we really are in a small corner of the world, in the very, very northwest. Fairly certain it was snowing up and as the ice was slashing my corneas I escaped to my other self. The one who uses full sentences and has complete command of her digits. We were due for a nasty blow and it hit. Over 50 mph winds but at least it was a powdery, packable snow. Snowball fights directed at guys standing in a truck is probably something like shooting fish in a barrel, especially when said guys are from a climate that never sees temps below 65, (insert evil cackle here). I then actually watched the belt get blown off the conveyor, WITH several 50lb boxes sitting on it.
Plans for the summer are shaping up nicely for my gig at Alaska Wildland Adventures ( This time around I'll be the "safari manager" dealing with more trip logistics and base camp happenings as well as running a few trips around the state throughout the summer. I'm just ready to lace up my hiking boots and smell a campfire again.
Anyone have some "must-do's" for a road trip from Colorado to Washington via the northern route? Rocky and I are again coaxing the red bandit Subaru back to its home in April and hope to hit some National Parks and the like along the way. I'm definitely voting for a pit stop in Missoula as they have a grad program IÕm interested in, and the Big Sky territory holds some allure for me.
Happy March to all and please oh please do not take St. Patrick's Day for granted. Drink early, much, and green!