Monday, June 14, 2010

Naknek Alaska

At the moment I'm waiting out a storm in Naknek Alaska, before we head out commercial fishing. If the salmon were making everyone's nets smoke, then we would be forced to push through it, but since numbers are still low most of the fleet is sticking this ride out, tied up to the dock or still haven't been put into the water. No use getting the crap beat out of you, wasting diesel, all for no fish. So that means I get the fun of hanging out in fun Naknek for a few more days. Time here seems to slow, slooow,sloooooooow to a crawl when you have nothing to do.

Naknek is a small native-fishing town. Gateway to Bristol Bay if you fly into King Salmon. Not much to it besides a few bars, some canneries, a lot of bears, and a small town with lots of character, but a heart beat that is barely staying alive. If it wasn't for summer fishing this town might dry up like so many small towns that have fallen to the times. There is the famous Red Dog Bar, where all the fishermen tend to hang out, get into some bar fights, and talk fishing stories. Great place to meet some crazy characters. Fishermen are some tough sob's and never stop making me laugh and entertain me with there ways. I would vote for a Alaskan boat captain for president in a heartbeat. They might be nuts, but you know what to expect from them, they have more integrity than most people I know, live life to the fullest, understand the value of working hard, don't take shit, and are great leaders.

One thing you have to watch out for walking around is drunk drivers. Drugs and booze flow through these types of towns. Last year I watched a drunk guy ride his four wheeler into the bushes and almost kill himself. The area is flat, harsh winters keep the trees stunted, only the Naknek River running through town creates some interesting land formations, so I don't blame them. Alcohol takes the pain away.

The canneries in town are super busy at the moment, loads and loads of people from poor parts of the world are flown up here to work shit jobs for shit pay. You can't help but feel for them. They work the slime line woking tough work conditions filleting and canning the millions of fish that come from our boats. Our boat is docked in the cannery so we are lucky to have the use of mug up. Mug up is a break time, where you can get a snack and fill your coffee mug. 10:15, 3:15, and 8:15, are exciting times of the day. Not much else to do.

Every day more workers are flown here from places from all over the world. Last year during the swine flu epidemic, most fishermen where working fast to get their boats ready and head out to sea before the bus loads of workers showed up from Mexico.

Till we go fishing we are staying in the Trident Cannery bunk house. A small room with a few bunk beds and a stack of playboys and some posters of some naked women on the walls, left over from years of fishermen staying in it. So when your not working on the boat, down time is taken up by reading books, drinking beer, and sexually frustrating yourself looking at porn mags over and over. I guess the quote written in the men's bathroom stall by some fisherman, put things into perspective out here. "Think about it, no matter how hard life gets, it will never get shittier than this moment right now."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Commercial Fishing Bristol Bay, Alaska

Click to view photos of Salmon Industry in Bristol Bay

It's a night time opening, the seas are rough, waves pound your boat, some splashing over the side. Rain and wind sting your face, chilling you down to your bone. You're tired, hands sore, but heart is pounding. You're ready to go.

Standing on the back of the boat with net in hand, you wait for the captains call. Other boats lay waiting as well, some spending the last few seconds trying to get better positions. Time ticks by, tick tick tick.

Then your captain yells go!. You throw the net out the back and the net unwinds out the back, your adrenaline pumps. Fish start hitting the net even before the whole net has been laid out. The net begins to smoke as thousands of salmon swim into it and get caught. It's going to be a great pay day.

It's fishing time in Alaska, so I'm heading out to commercial fish and document the red salmon fishing industry in Bristol Bay. I'll be on a 32 foot fishing boat for about 5 weeks. Bristol Bay is located in the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Russia. It's the most productive salmon fishery in the world. Tens of millions of salmon return every year to this area, to spawn.

Working as a deck hand on a fishing boat is tough work. You work long hours with little rest, fish through rough seas, and dangerous working conditions. When the run is in, it's time to fish and the place just explodes with activity. Captains fight for position, deck hands lay out 150 yards of net. It's like destruction derby, boats plow into each other, nets get wrapped up in propellers. Everyone fighting for a great payday. Over the weeks your hands and shoulders strengthen, your mental toughness increases, and have one hell of a time. For those of you who love adventure this is the job for you.

Click to view photos of Salmon Industry in Bristol Bay