Alaskan Longline Trip

by macksemil

In June I flew back up to Alaska for a short contract with my company. They were short people and offered me a contract lasting no more than a month. Since it was still quite rainy in Oregon and the extra paycheck would make my central and south America trips a reality, I agreed. I was briefed and on a plane to Dutch Harbor before I knew what had happened, spent two days reading and chatting with people in the bunkhouse, then was taken to my new boat.

The boat was a 68 foot longliner, baiting all hooks by hand. This fishery is very time intensive and the crew worked all day every day without much sleep between days. I was incredibly seasick for the first week of a nine day trip. I spent days on end lying in bed feeling like total hell. When I would get up and try to work, I would end up incapacitated by nausea and the associated involuntary emptying of my gastric cavity. This led to some severe dehydration and a lack of any real diet. However, after a week I started to feel better. This boat is rumored to be one of the worst in the fleet for seasickness. I was able to sample about half of the hauls while on board which I heard was better than some do on this particular vessel.

One of the most interesting things about this deployment was the strange little ports we visited on the trip. After leaving Dutch Harbor we went to Akutan, the next island over from Unalaska. There is a tiny native settlement there of no more than 200 people. There are no roads, just raised wooden boardwalks that everyone in the community drives ATVs on. The whole place being a close collection of 100 buildings, there is no real need to drive at all. I was able to walk from one extreme of the town to the other in less than 30 minutes. However, Akutan does have a nice public library with some displays of native crafts and lifestyle.

Akutan is also home to the Grumman Goose, an amphibious aircraft designed during WWII. I was on the beach loafing about when the Goose came in for a landing on the water. I got my camera out for the takeoff and got a video. (I’m having problems figuring out how to get the video to show up here – I’ll fix it eventually.)

The fishing trip may have been the longest nine days of my life. It was pretty miserable but I got along well with the captain Steve. He told me a lot of things about how the Sablefish and Halibut IFQ systems were created and how they work. We talked about the different types of fishing, and he told me a lot about how longline fishing works and what the best places and methods of fishing are. The boat was based out of Kodiak but unfortunately I didn’t get to visit there. It turned out that one of the co-owners of the boat had died at 17,000 feet on Mt. Everest of cardiac arrest a few days before I got on the boat. It was a little bit of an emotional time for the boat, and after we unloaded and docked in Sand Point the crew flew to Kodiak to go to the funeral.

From Sand Point I got a ride to the airport and was on a plane the same day we docked up. Back to Seattle, and into a half of a week of a very frustrating debriefing session. I got a lot of shit from my debriefer which was discouraging. However, after three days of intense number crunching and holding my tongue while getting my work thrown out for dumb reasons, I was free and clear to return to funemployment.