Sunday, September 5, 2010

Things you should know about commercial fishing

1. You are at least damp all of the time, if not soaked. Parts of your body will peel off due to being wet and salty all of the time.

2. You will stink. From sweat and from rotting salmon-ick stuck to your body. Salmon ick ranges from blood to viscera. I peeled a chunk of spinal blood off of my shoulder over the weekend.

3. You cannot be claustrophobic. The fo'c'sle is dank and you sleep in a coffin like place near the ceiling. The hold is dark and cold. The hatch to the hold must stay closed all the time (even when packing fish) to keep the ice from melting.

4. Repetitive motion is the only motion. You scrub the deck at least 20 times per day. The salmon get clubbed in the same manner with the same arm (Hammerstein). The path between the wheel house is worn.

5. Breakfast can make or break the day. Eating is secondary to catching fish so eating before you're pulling them keeps the hunger pangs at bay. Warm breakfasts are best, but anything will do. I know that if I don't eat I become nauseous, crabby, and hard to work with.

6. Things break all of the time. The wash down pump stops working if it gets too hot. You will lose stuff over the side. There will be electrical fires. You must be able to fix the situation and move on.

7. Mornings are dreadful and amazing. Getting up an hour before dawn in an Alaskan summer means regularly rising at 3 am. This is a time that should not exist, yet manages to be spectacular. The way everything is purple and quite. The potential of another day on the water. It breaks your heart, it's so perfect.

8. Only breakfast is more important than sleep to functioning. Get some when you can. It's never quality sleep--the motions, the noise, the damp--but it is something.

9. Have a clean change of clothes to wear at night. You do not want to smell like fish guts when you are trying to enjoy pork chops or a beer.

10. Coming back into the harbor, late at night and tying up to the cannery is about as exciting as it gets. When they lower the tote down to you and you fill it with your catch, and they have to keep lowering it because you caught more than 1,000 pounds of salmon flesh, you take a breath. The icy cold and the way your back screams from shoveling out all of the ice doesn't matter.

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