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North Pacific Groundfish
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Southeast Atlantic Fisheries
That's certainly not fish…
The boat I was on was fishing in the western Aleutians. We were steaming to a new spot and I woke up to the smell of rotten eggs. It was not a natural boat smell. I went out into the galley, looked around, opened the engine room door and smelled nothing. Then I went out on deck and I could really smell it, so I climbed up to the wheelhouse and asked the skipper, He looked over and said, "Can you smell that". Dumb question. "Thank the Volcano."
We were on the north side of a volcanic island. When it got light it was clear enough to see the steam and smoke blowing off the top.
Every 2-3 days we'd return to that spot. At times if you wanted to sleep you had to stick your nose into a pillow. But luckily (for me and the crew who didn't like the idea of working next to a smoking gun) fishing wasn't so hot so we moved on. How many other jobs are going to have you working in sight of an active volcano?
When bleeders don’t speak English...
My first assignment was a 160' pacific cod longliner. Even though I had over 700 days observing on crab and scallop boats, I was a bit nervous about groundfish observing. The work requirements for groundfish are more strict, and the job actually required cutting, weighing and identifying many more species than on a crab boat. I flew out to Dutch and met the ships engineer. He showed me my bunk in a comfortable 2 man stateroom and quickly informed me that I was on my own for food because the cook, Capt. and most of the crew were not going to fly in for another 2 days. A quick call to my contractor and they said "no cook, no food on the boat? Then it's okay to get meals in town, we'll reimburse. Yeah!”
However, that was the most difficult situation to deal with for the next 2 months. The captain was as likely to try and open up a discussion on Colonialism in Africa as he was to talk about fishing and the crew were experienced and professional. The only real difficulty came in trying to get some sample fish from the "bleeder". The bleeder cuts the cod so they'll bleed out on the way to the factory. (It makes for a higher quality product).
Unfortunately, for me, several of the bleeders didn't speak any English. But after a couple of quick Spanish lessons from the Mexican asst. engineer, I was asking for "diez pescado por favor" and everything was aces.
Boats and cruises have come and gone, and thinking back I can't really remember a trip where there were not at least a few interesting people or happenings worthwhile to remember and write home about. Like the guy who was the subject of a Paul Harvey report cuz he was the only man in Alaska, bitten by a poisonous rattlesnake. When he was in the hospital he met a nurse and married her ten days later. Or the born again Christian covered with gang tattoos. Or the guy that had been on two boats that sank but he was still fishing because he loved the ocean.
And the sights you see...nowhere else on earth. A friend of mine is really into birds and said that if he thought he could see a shortailed albatross, he'd sign up and go out observing. As he said this I remembered that somewhere at home in a box, with a thousand other pictures, is one of 3, shortailed albatross gathered around a piece of card board floating behind the boat.
Tales and Whales
I've been an observer on groundfish boats for 3 years and have had many amazing experiences. 2 years ago I was on a longliner, tallying fish as they came aboard, and for half a day a pod of orcas followed the boat. One in particular, repeatedly dove on the line looking for halibut. It was lucky for the boat that we weren't trying to catch Halibut. During that same trip, after refueling in St. Paul, we steamed back to the fishing grounds on a flat calm night and the crew spent 20 minutes looking at a particularly bright star, trying to decide if it was a planet, star, or aliens. It made for something new to talk about after being with the same crew for 25 days. That trip lasted 45 days with an 8-hour stop in St. Paul.
I think the greatest fear among new observers is meeting the crew/Capt., and getting along with them. Certainly I was concerned about this when I started, but I can honestly say my experiences have been good ones. The crew knows who you are and that you've got a job to do, and with few exceptions, they let you go about your business. Some crews you get to know all of their kids' names, all their ex-wives names, and maybe the number of times a guy's been to jail. Even guys with a questionable past can be great to be on a boat and work with, even though you probably will never see them again. Some boat crews are quiet and all business. On some boats it has seemed that when I'm not working, I'm laughing, either at practical jokes between the crew, or stories they've told, or just the regular day-to-day interactions among them. Aside from the experience of being on the boat in the middle of the Bering Sea, meeting these guys and given the chance, getting to know the crew can be an experience in itself. (But everyone's experience will be different.)
Being a fisheries observer is a great experience on the water. I've always loved the ocean, and to be able to work in my field (of natural resources), to do it on the water and make good money is awesome. After being at sea, coming into shore has allowed me to get so much more from my time on land. A walk to the store, a phone call or letter from home, or some peace and quiet are much more appreciated. However, after 5-6 weeks on land, I look forward to the 24/7 work, the quiet (sometimes loud) drone of the diesel, and the time to myself. Doing a groundfish contract is like completing a tough semester at school. You may be tired, worn out, ready for a break, but you did it, and there's a great sense of accomplishment, PLUS, money in the bank!
My opinion? Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Congratulations! You've already come so far as to reach the observer letter page. You’ve read the ‘Adventurous Biologist’ post, checked out saltwater webpage, and being the curious biologists you are have come to seek a current observer’s opinion. And here is mine: take the job. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Do it now. Don’t even bother reading the rest of the letters.
Alaska’s history is filled with adventure. For thousands of year spanning from the initial native crossing of the Aleutian land bridge, to the Russian fur trading settlements, to the 1800s Yukon gold rush, and on the 1970s-1980s king crab boom, people have been flocking to Alaska for adventure and gain. Some come here for the riches, some to start anew, and some just fleeing from whatever troubles them at home. This is the land opportunity, the last frontier. You can almost smell it in the air up here.
Coming here as a new observer is no different. There are many risks and apprehensions involved. You have to pay up from for your transportation to Anchorage (or Seattle), gear, and various expenses amassed during the three-week training reimbursed only providing you pass the class and become a certified Saltwater observer. Fail the class and you’re stuck in Anchorage with possible a $1,500 tab (hint: don’t worry, it’s not too difficult). Some people put it all on the line to come up here, not unlike those who left every thing behind in order to strike it rich in the gold fields or to line their pockets with red king crab. Pass the class, however, and you will be rewarded tenfold.
For anyone with a passion for the field biology, a fondness for fish, and love of adventure, this is the job for you. You get paid to be flown around all over coastal Alaska, play with fish all day, go to places most people have never even dream of seeing, experience the legendary Alaskan fishing industry first hand, meet thousands of culturally and socially diverse people, and to gain invaluable scientific field experience. The work itself is physically demanding and filled with responsibility, however it’s not rocket science and is actually very rewarding. Plus, the pay is actually really good and it impossible to spend money when you’re boat. Saltwater covers your boarding and gives you a daily food stipend when you’re not at sea, so if you manage your money well you should end your first contract pretty comfortable financially speaking.
The observers your will train and work with from my experience, should seal the deal on their own merit. Everyone is roughly the same age and is from a biological background, so we all have a similar take on the world. We are all from different parts of the country, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved meeting people from other places. Plus, it takes certain breed of human to make the decision to come up here in the first place, not to mention to enjoy it and stick around awhile. With all these things in common, observing with Saltwater (which has the most observers) is the perfect breeding ground for friendships and experience that will last a lifetime.
Is it cold? Yes, it gets pretty cold in Alaska. It’s not exactly Arizona you know. But layer up, put on the jacket, and stuck it up; it’s always colder in Barrow. Plus, there is something rewarding about getting the job done regardless of whether or you can feel your fingers, which honestly doesn’t happen all that often throughout the year.
So if I were you, I’d take the job. If you don’t like it, you’re only obliged to sign a three month contact and plus, you’ll always be able to say you’ve braved the Bering Sea.
— Eric Sommerauer
The pros, cons and calipers of crab observing.
This is going out to anyone considering taking up crab observing, or anyone who SHOULD be considering taking up crab observing. This is from someone with a light to medium handle on the realities of the job. When being recruited for this position remember it is an elite, specially trained force so it isn't for the faint at heart or the undedicated. Note: it is not for the easily scared as all those monsters that were hiding under your bed as a child are actually commercially harvested and the only heat they let you pack is a pair of (expensive) calipers. Keep in mind that this isn't for the shy as crab fishermen have a tendency to draw you in to their world quickly and unmercifully. Crab observing is for the strong at heart, the brave, the stout, the adventurous, the lucky......ish. Speaking form one groundfish observer to another you haven't seen it all, you haven't experienced anything until you've been on a crab boat (and pot cod does not count).
Okay, but here's some quick pros and cons to consider. Pro: no random number table, con: those unfortunate occasions when your sample pot contains 200+ crab. Pro: briefings and debriefings take 1-2 hours tops each, con: the paperwork's dumb (paperwork pro: no key punch, paperwork con: imagine a 3US as 10 separate forms). Pro: king crab's not a prohib on a king crab boat! Con: handling king crab whether dead or alive can be rough..... Pro: Especially with IFQs coming about these fishermen are making MONEY so their fridge is always stocked like a vending machine, con: they get a bit harried during a season and don't cook and you get trapped in the Hot Pocket cycle. Con: contracts are short, pro: with IFQs that could change and there is the not-that-rare 120 day brown king crab contract. Pro: sometimes you get paid to do nothing while you sit on anchor for days, con: sometimes you sit on anchor for days. Pro: crab fishermen (by far the funniest breed in the industry)! Con: sometimes.....well....crab fishermen.
Despite the things I don't like about crab observing vs. groundfish there are 50 more things I do like. At the top of that 50 has to be that the crab fishery has to be one of the most interesting and dynamic managed fisheries in Alaska complete with a dramatic history and a long list of current events. If you are interested at all in wildlife management or natural resource development just being a fly on the wall of this subculture is fascinating. Even more than pollock? Um...yes even more than POLLOCK! Secondly, crab themselves will knock your Smart Wool socks off-coming from someone without much inherent marine interest I could marvel at an adult male red king crab all day (or night, depending). Not to mention that crab seasons are like festivals. Excitement is in the air when crabbers start flooding into Dutch (or god knows where) and the atmosphere is engaging and irresistible. Lastly while ADF&G are still government and I can't say I've never been frustrated I have really enjoyed working with them. One debriefing with Missy Salmon and you'll never want to see a NMFS debriefer again.
So while crab observing isn't going to provide you with tons of work it is an incredibly worthwhile experience, and don't fool yourself that it is too similar to groundfish to bother with. Its differences are worth a try; it is a great way to expand not only experience but also the opportunity for even more work. It is no harder than groundfish but considerably more fun (and really it is no less safe than groundfish: don't believe everything you see on TV).
If you think you have what it takes to join this elite force (I know you've always wanted to) and become a part of an exemplar group (I have noticed the jealousy) I would highly recommend it-maybe Melinda will score you a t-shirt.
— Kristin Cannon
There are things I can tell you…
As a current crab observer who has been in it for almost two years there are things I can tell you that will hopefully help you decide whether this racket is up your alley or not. It isn't for everyone, it just isn't, but it may be for you and there are some important things I would tell you to consider when deciding:
Before starting as a crab observer I had no boating experience whatsoever aside from maybe a quick ferry trip in the Puget Sound. The Bering Sea was certainly a shock to the system and I quickly discovered that I was highly susceptible to seasickness. I vomited and puked and ralphed for at least the first few days and on many trips since. And while I still battle the beast known as sea sickness it has become something I've been able to manage and avoid as almost a science and just as I am inexplicably stricken by the whims of the sea and my inner ear many of my co-workers, just as inexplicably, are not bothered at all.
While crab observing is one of the more predictable observing assignments the work, alas, is unpredictable. I've often been frustrated with seasons that run longer than predicted or stopped short. Sometimes you wait weeks after a season is over to finish up and get home largely due to airplane flights and the processors' schedules or the weather. You need to be flexible and easy going then, but even with those tools it is still, at times, tough. Sometimes it feels like the logistics are taking forever and sometimes you have to act on logistics formed in five minutes.
The last thing I've found most frustrating that I would have considered before signing up is dealing with the government regulations. Along with collecting biological data you are responsible for compliance monitoring and I definitely enjoy the biological data collecting much more, tattling is not a fun activity. Also while I enjoy working with the observer staff at Alaska Fish and Game immensely they are still the government and coordinating between them and their priorities and Saltwater and their priorities and the boat and their priorities (while sometimes is a laugh) is a pain.
So that's what I don't like, but I would also have you consider what I do. First of all I find the work interesting most of the time (even while the paperwork is not). If you are looking to a future in Natural Resource Development or Wildlife Management this is an amazing opportunity for hands-on field experience. This is extreme field research. Everything from the fishermen to the current dynamics to the history of the fishery I find exciting and engaging. It is a great experience.
I also like the money. For a person possibly just starting out it is really a decent amount of money you can make while still allowing for plenty of time off and with guaranteed raises. You can take that time off and travel or pursue your various interests. It is really hard these days to get a job with only a BS doing field research (outside of graduate school) for a decent amount of money. This is what really initially lead me to the job.
Lastly, and best of all, there is Alaska. They fly you to these crazy fishing ports that you would otherwise never get to see in one of the most beautiful and wild places on earth. It is an adventure just coming to Alaska but working on commercial fishing vessels, especially crab, is an epic trip on top of that.
So those are the things I think are important to keep in your mind while you're considering it all. There are of course probably many more. One thing I don't think should be a deciding force when deciding to apply to or accept a position is safety. Don't believe everything you see on TV. While I can speak highly of it the job isn't quite as dramatic as some would have you believe. Now, are you safer on a fishing boat than in your own home? No, obviously not. Are you throwing your life into the whims of fate with bad odds? The conditions I've seen recorded on film on crabbing boats are fairly rare and something you'd never see on that video during storms like that is an observer out on deck. It isn't unusual for a crewman to be lost at sea or injured but it is very rare (I can't think of hearing of a single story) for a crab observer to even sustain a minor injury. So as honest as I can be about the situation is this: this last snow crab season a boat sank and another vessel that was carrying an observer lost a crewman overboard BUT knowing what I know and after two years I feel safe enough to continue to get on these boats and work, it has never stopped me from coming back for more.
So all that said, I would highly recommend this job to anyone who is not freaked out by sea sickness (even if you get sick), unpredictability, or government bureaucracy and relishes biology in the field, making money, and adventure. It is hard work at times and definitely not your average job but then again IT IS DEFINITELY NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOB. Good luck in applying or deciding or with the job search in general. Hopefully one day I'll see you up here.
— Kristin Cannon
One of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
When I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to use my newly acquired degree in the real world. I originally hail from Illinois and was sick of the plains; I knew that I needed scenery and adventure in my new job. I was also looking for a job in which I could take some time off to travel. I started looking for jobs in every state that had mountains and came upon the website for observing in Alaska. I saw that they were hiring outgoing biologists with a good personality and that I would get months off at a time, I knew that this was the job for me. I decided to apply for a job as crab observer and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
After going through the application process I was a little worried about what I was going to be getting myself into, but I decided that taking risks in life is what makes life so exciting. So, I picked up and moved to Anchorage to start my new life. After my two weeks of training I was prepared and ready to start the world's most dangerous job. After training, I felt good about getting on a crab boat, especially since we went through so much safety training. I was nervous, mostly being the only girl on a boat of men, but I decided to rough it out. I flew from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor on a plane that contained about 25 people and about 3 of us were women. The flight was amazing and for the first time since I moved to Alaska I was able to see the state outside of Anchorage. As I boarded my boat the guys all came out to meet me and greeted me with open arms. I never felt uncomfortable and they never made me feel like an outcast. I enjoyed my first boat so much that I decided to continue on observing, that was one and half years ago.
The most common misconception about my job is that I do the world's most dangerous job, which is far from the truth. I am not a fishermen and it is the fishermen who receive the title of world's most dangerous job. When I do not feel safe, I do not have to go out on deck. When the crew feels it is not safe for me to be out on deck, I do not go out on deck. The number one objective of my job is being safe, which in rough weather can mean not working all day. The Discovery Channel has recently put out a reality television show, in which they show a crabbers life, not an observers. Observers do not stand next to the rail or by the moving pots; observers do not stay up for 20 hours a day and observers do not work with the bait choppers. The Discovery Channel does not display the job of the observer and the two jobs are very different.
I am happy that I moved to Alaska and got a job as a marine biologist/observer. I have been able to travel up and down the Aleutian chain, throughout Southeast Alaska, Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Not only have I been able to see more of Alaska than some life-long residents from this wonderful state, but I have also been able to experience a life-changing job...not to mention that I have gotten to experience how exaggerated a reality television show can be, and I have the stories to prove it.
— Muffy Gohl
Crab observer reflects on safety, socks and seeing the world.
I started working for Saltwater Inc. as a crab observer. My experience as an observer has been very positive. I enjoy getting to travel, meeting people, and using my skills as a biologist in an exciting work environment. There are times when the job is stressful. There are rough seas, grumpy crew members, smelly rain gear, wet socks, boat food, getting pinched by crabs, and a lot of paperwork but I think the good out weighs the bad. It is nice to have the job flexibility to be able to work a couple contracts and then have time (and money) to travel or do whatever I want in my off time. I also enjoy getting to see how the crab fishery works, traveling to remote sites in Alaska, hanging out in Dutch Harbor, learning how to identify crab and fish species, etc. I have definitely learned a lot working as an observer.
As far as safety goes I do not think I have ever felt unsafe on a vessel. Crab vessels are usually over 90 feet and pretty stable. The captain and crew are usually very serious about the fishery and are experienced working on boats. Vessels are certified by USCG and checked by the observer for multiple safety points before the vessel is allowed to leave port. Observers are provided with extensive safety training before actually getting on a boat and all safety equipment is provided Sometimes the weather gets pretty bad and seas are rough. Seasickness is a problem but it can be managed. The Captain and crew will work in pretty extreme conditions, but as an observer you always have the option not to go out on deck if you ever feel unsafe. No one wants to lose an observer because they are so loved and cherished by all. In addition observers have daily contact via radio or telephone with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the USCG is standing by to assist in an emergency. Life is pretty good on the Bering Sea. Observing is definitely work, but it is a good way to see and experience Alaska. My work experience with Saltwater Inc. helped me in attaining other biology fieldwork in Alaska. I would definitely recommend this job to anyone who wants experience working as a biologist, wants flexibility (and money) to be able to travel, wants to see Alaska, or just wants a good adventure.
— Lynden Grothe
Receptive & Responsive
I had never worked as an observer before and did not know what to expect. After completing my fourth contract, I feel Saltwater has been receptive and responsive to my concerns. I'm particularly pleased with Saltwater's policy that allows observers to select (as much as possible) vessel and gear types that suit them. This is what has caused me to remain with Saltwater Inc. as a contractor. In addition, the office staff are more than understanding and I view them as friends and not just employers.
— Christian Jilek
Paid to play.
I wanted to be a shellfish observer for a lot of reasons, namely to do fieldwork in Alaska, meet some new people, and get out of the city. Additionally, I am interested in the commercial fishing industry and being from the east coast; my experience was limited to lobster pots. The very idea of using thousand pound, 7 feet wide by 7 feet high pots to fish crab seemed impossible. I finally saw those mammoth pots in action about 3 weeks after my arrival in Alaska, and it became obvious that to catch really big crab, you need really big gear. The pots capture not only king and snow crab but also coral, snails, spider crab (my favorite), starfish, halibut, pacific cod, sponges, algae, and many other neat critters. I couldn't believe my good luck to be getting paid to ride around on the ocean, play with marine life, and see parts of Alaska most people never get to see.
Fisheries observers really are the front lines of data collection. The rewarding thing about being a crab observer is that you actively contribute to the in season management of the fisheries. One of the duties is reporting in your assigned vessels' catch anywhere from twice daily to once per week, depending on the fishery. Another positive aspect when working as a crab observer, as opposed to groundfish, is that you have a little more freedom with your sampling protocol because generally, you are not a slave to the haul back. During your briefing with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, you are assigned a certain number of pots to sample per day and so, all you have to do is wake up and measure some crab. Also, as a crab observer, you never have to cut anything open...ever.
Once you start figuring everything out, life at sea settles into being routine. That's not to say that there aren't days when we all want to kick ourselves in the head for signing up. There are times when you miss land so much it makes you squirrelly and inevitably, the weather will get rough and all you can do is wedge yourself into your bunk and stay inside. And OK, working the winter C. opilio fishery is cold and miserable but, when it's all said and done; the misery makes for one heck of a great story to tell the folks at home. Fortunately, observers are a terrific group of people and there is always a friend (new or old) ready to welcome you back to land.
— Stephanie Boudreau
Myths and realities of crabbing.
With the Discovery Channel series "The Deadliest Catch," crabbing has come to be known as a very dangerous job. One of the elements of the fishery that the show does not shed any light on is the role of the observer. So for people who are interested in observing they have no idea what it is like out there for the observer. I have been observing crab for about three years now, and thoughrouly enjoy it. I am not going to tell you the duties of the observer because you can get that information from the website and contractors. Rather I think you should know how the safety of the observer actually is compromised and why it may be so.
In my three years of crab observing I have done three red king seasons, three opilio crab seasons, and soon to be three brown king crab seasons. I have met some great people here, and had some exciting experiences. The sights, sounds and people both out at sea, and on the islands are worth the risk of being on a crab vessel. I have found that yes, the crabbing industry is a dangerous one, but that could change due to the rationalizing of the fishery.
Most of the hazards of crabbing I seen come from sleep deprivation the crew experiences, and the rush for the catch. When the fishery is officially rationalized the crew will not be driven by the clock like the past derby seasons, but rather by a set quota the individual boat has set upon it. Now instead of heading out and braving the rough seas, and racing against the clock these boats will have the option of letting their gear soak. Seeking out calmer waters in the shelter of islands until the weather dies down.
Even during the derby fishing seasons as an observer you have the right to declare that working is unsafe (just don't abuse this right). Safety always comes first, and they tell you that in training. As an onboard observer you work on the deck of the crab boat with the crew, but you do not work the rail, you do not work by the coiler. So unlike the deck crew you are more often then not protected by the wheelhouse or storm walls, and away from the uncoiling line.
No skipper wants to be responsible for losing an observer. If the skipper feels the deck is unsafe he will let you know. Life vests are available to our use, and we each carry our own survival suite. In my three years of Crab observing I have not felt unsafe. Part of the reason for this is we go through a safety check prior to boarding and leaving port. That is the chance I take to figure out how the skipper feels about the safety of his boat. I always ask how long his engineer has been working on the vessel; generally these men know their boats best. I have been known to go into the coast guard office and inquire about the safety of my vessel as well. The coast guard will tell you honestly what they think of the integrity of the boat. By no means am I saying observing is a pleasure cruise, but keep in mind that you have the final say on your safety.
Crab observing just like Groundfish observing requires you to be aware of your surroundings like any other job. The difference is your environment is not as easily controlled as it is in a lab or behind a desk. You have to be responsible for yourself, but also know that it is in the best interest of you crew to keep you safe as well. Keep in mind that what is shown on this discovery channel is for entertainment. Most people up here will tell you that this is a risky job, but what you see is exaggerated upon for the sake of entertainment. Dramatized is the phrase I often hear.
If you are interested in working as an observer and still have doubts causing you to turn down this experience I have one suggestion to you. Ask to speak to a prior crab observer if you can. I have been approached by several people who are concerned about agreeing to do this job. They have told me that talking with an observer who has been there is much more enlightening then what you can get from the websites and contractors. Think about it for a minute if you where one of the producers of "The Deadliest Catch" wouldn't you want it to be suspenseful to keep your viewers wanting more?
— Melanie Rickett
Life on a scallop boat.
If you're a biologist who likes physical, hands on experience, then scalloping (shellfish observing) is definitely for you. I flew into Kodiak for my most recent scallop trip. The observer I was replacing couldn't wait to flex her arms and show off her scallop muscles, which she got from 80 days aboard doing her sampling duties. Probably my favorite part of scallop observing is that it is a physical job. Observers have to collect and weigh at least 15 (baskets) or bushels of scallops a day, which weigh 50-60 pounds each. Combined with your other sampling duties, and after just a few weeks you can feel yourself getting into shape.
The conditions onboard the boats are cramped, but comfortable enough. This crew welcomed me aboard (after a few days when they decided I was an alright guy) with bacon wrapped scallops for dinner. We fished close to shore, and in my spare time I got into the habit of scanning the beaches for grizzlies. (Never did see one, though) The trip lasted 2 weeks, then we steamed 3 days to Dutch Harbor, which included 3 days of playing cards and chess, and watching movies. The captain had the crew make a new dredge net and I helped squeeze a few links together since the weather was good. This proved to be not as much fun as it looked, so I went back to by book. Suddenly we arrived in Dutch, and just like that the trip was over. Then I was back in Anchorage and on to my next assignment.
Scallop observing is great because you get to see parts of Alaska where other fisheries rarely allow you to go. My first scallop boat started in Kodiak, fished there, then went to Dutch Harbor and fished there for a few weeks. I thought I was done, because the next day I flew to Anchorage and spent the night. However, the next morning I was bound for Yakutat, the surfing capital of Alaska. I walked out of the airport and in the parking lot I saw 2 cars with boards on the roof. After briefing at the ADF&G office, I had 2-3 free hours before I was due at my boat. Ever seen a grizzly before? the head guy asked me. My answer was no, and off we went to the town dump. Not the most natural setting, but awesome just the same. That day I saw a sow with 2 cubs and a male grizzly that looked about the same size as the Chevy we were in. We left town the next day and fished just off the beach. The weather cleared up and there was Mt. St. Elias, and the entire range to look at. Cloud free days are rare, and that night I was lucky to see the Northern lights. It was 2-3 am. I was busy with paper work in the galley when Joe, the 17-year-old deckhand, came in. Fishing was slow the crew had finished cutting the scallops (processing). He asked it I'd ever seen the Northern lights before and I said yes, but never in Alaska. He said, come check these out. I went out on deck and it was almost pitch black. The decks are usually as bright as day with strong sodium lights, but the first mate had shut off everything but the running lights. The crew of rough tough fishermen were all oohing aahing over the blue and green waves in the night sky. After 5 or ten minutes the mate said, haul back, and the deck lights came on, washing out the show, and it was back to the grind.
A few days later we were due to head over to Prince William Sound, but a last minute decision sent the boat to Dutch Harbor, where they would pick up a new observer. They dropped me back off in Yakutat and my trip was over.
Saltwater Inc. • 733 N Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501 • Phone (907) 276-3241 • Toll-Free (800) 770-3241