Report from Alaska #2

Future Frogmen traveling volunteer Ben Acker, introduced in our first of this series, has been fishing Alaska’s waters all summer. Periods of silence from busy days at sea and lack of Internet connectivity are periodically broken by photo updates chronicling his day-to-day experience aboard one of several vessels. We bring you the latest here:

 Fishing aboard a commercial vessel can be challenging. Expeditions can take extended time to reach prime fishing grounds, and that can mean days on the waves with your fellow crew motoring out to sea with food and numerous gear in tow.

“Opening to sea in front of us. One day to get to sea, and two days in open water to get to our fishing spot.”

“Opening to sea in front of us. One day to get to sea, and two days in open water to get to our fishing spot.”

Ship life means tight quarters, creative use of space below deck, and always being mindful of your bunkmates. Captains and higher ranks often have seemingly luxurious, or at least private quarters, but that is all relative, of course!

“Top bunk on the starboard side is mine. There is a total of four crew, including myself. Two sharing this cabin room. Captain and most senior crew have their own.”

“Top bunk on the starboard side is mine. There is a total of four crew, including myself. Two sharing this cabin room. Captain and most senior crew have their own.”

"The first job in Alaska was pot fishing for Black Cod (Sablefish). This consisted of putting out strings of pots, about 25 in a string, and hauling them back up about 48 hours later."

Sablefish (anoplopoma fimbria), also referred to as black cod, but not to be confused with the Pacific or Atlantic cod fish. Sablefish (black cod) inhabit deep waters off the coast, hence the long boat travel time. These fish are similar in appearance to cod but belong to a different family. Sablefish are also sometimes referred to as butterfish due to their higher fat content and subsequent buttery, rich taste.

"This is the deck filled with our pots prior to baiting and sending out to fish. These weigh between 90-110 lbs and as you can imagine it’s a pretty good workout tossing them around deck. This is the first year that sablefish are able to be pot fished in this area as they are traditionally long line fished. This is due to the increased whale population locally. Whales have learned to strip fish from the lines for a snack."

"Some positive notes on this style of fishing:
I’m told the sablefish lack swim bladders which allows the smaller fish to be immediately released back into the water unharmed. We found a few fish that had sustained jaw injuries from being hooked on a long line and ripped off by the whales. These fish got away from both the long line fishermen and the whales but suffered injuries as a result (pictured below). These observations show pot fishing to be a much more sustainable way to harvest these fish."

A sablefish, aka black cod, butterfish, coalfish, or gindara (in sushi) that managed to escape both the long lines and the whales

A sablefish, aka black cod, butterfish, coalfish, or gindara (in sushi) that managed to escape both the long lines and the whales

"Overall we didn’t catch a lot and the money I made in two and a half weeks barely paid for my flight and rain gear but I did take away valuable new skills that I can apply to obtaining future work! "

Alaska is also known for it’s wildlife. Sea otters, eagles and whales come with the job and are a welcome sight after a long day at sea.

“My fist Alaskan sea otter. We also saw a bald eagle catch a salmon and try to carry it to shore. The eagle progressively flew lower and lower and it finally had to drop it.”

“My fist Alaskan sea otter. We also saw a bald eagle catch a salmon and try to carry it to shore. The eagle progressively flew lower and lower and it finally had to drop it.”

Nothing like seeing an orca just before the sun sets!

Nothing like seeing an orca just before the sun sets!

Thank you to field volunteer Ben Acker for sharing his adventures and experiences. Future Frogmen plans to further collaborate with Ben once he trades in his sea legs and the season comes to a close.

Missed a blog? Check out Report from Alaska #1  and other previous blogs here.

Richard Hyman