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Old 09-29-2007, 01:41 PM
Location: Sand Point Alaska
41 posts, read 161,594 times
Reputation: 91


All over the 'net, I read guys who dream of coming to Alaska and getting rich over night in commercial fishing.

Doesn't work that way. This business is in decline, employment opportunities diminish, and to be honest, not many men I've met over the years can handle it. It's very physical, requires a great deal of specialized knowledge, real courage in the face of death, strength, physical endurance, and perhaps most important, a truly stubborn "I won't quit no matter what" attitude.

This business is not for boys.

I post this because over the years, I've seen many, many fellows ( and a few gals) come here and literally go through hell for no benefit whatsoever. Some few (very few) make it in this business. Most don't.

First things first: employment in fisheries is declining, and the odds of a greenhorn getting a decent job on a decent boat are slim indeed.

Fishing Jobs Outlook: U.S. Department of Labor

"Employment of fishers and fishing vessel operators is expected to decline through the year 2014. Fishers and fishing vessel operators depend on the natural ability of fish stocks to replenish themselves through growth and reproduction, as well as on governmental regulation to promote replenishment of fisheries. Many operations are currently at or beyond the maximum sustainable yield, partially because of habitat destruction, and the number of workers who can earn an adequate income from fishing is expected to decline. Many fishers and fishing vessel operators leave the occupation because of the strenuous and hazardous nature of the job and the lack of steady, year-round income."

There's a dose of reality for ya!
Second: Here's a post I put up in another thread on this forum. Read it.

I worked the sea for nearly 24 years, am now 60, and pretty much crippled. Because of the sea. She will kill you and not even notice. She will kill everybody on the boat and not even notice. You are trying to get in to a difficult and dangerous profession, one which is not what it was.

Although some deck hands can yet make $100K or more a year, there's not so many, and these are the men and women who have put in the time. It is very rare indeed for anyone with less than ten years' experience to pull down top money. There's a LOT for a deck hand to learn, people to meet (it's a relatively small community) and attitudes to develop, before a top-tier producer will even consider hiring you. You must put in the years, and make a committment, or don't waste our time - stay home.

This is not an easy path you choose.

BTW: I live in Sand Point Alaska, in the Shumagin Islands, between Dutch and Kodiak. It's a goofy little town, and I fit right in.

First: Buy A Round Trip Ticket! We get really tired of guys so stupid that they think all they have to do is show up and get rich, because they know they'll just looove it all. "Romance of the Sea", my ass! The sea is a lying wh*re. And then, months go by, no job, no money, no way out of town. Geeze, this gets boring! It's so repititious. And so stupid. Get a round trip ticket, and guard it with your life.

Gear: Buy every bit from an established fishing supply business, such as Kachemak Gear Shed, Lummi Fisheries, Seattle Ship Supply, or equivalent.

You will need an Alaska State crewman's license.

Rain Gear - Grunden brand
Boots - Goodyear X-tra Tufs. Two pair. One to wear, one to dry.
A good, light weight sleeping bag. Several other little bags for odds and ends.
Two sets poly pro or other wicking-type long johns, shirt and lowers.
Lots and lots of WARM socks. Felt inserts for the boots.
A REALLY good duffle bag to jam it all into.
The above is just for starters.
Try to keep non-essentials to a minimum. You'll be doing a lot of walking with the damned duffel bag, and they get heavy. Stick to essentials. You can always buy useless junk later.

The Job: First, you must understand that every time we go to sea we court death. An inexperienced hand can literally kill us all, or otherwise inadvertently cause harm or financial loss. Thus, you must expect a severe testing process. Your ship mates have to know that you can be counted on when the situation becomes serious. Not freeze or panic, but get the job done. Also, if you do not perform adequately on deck, you cost everybody money. So, if you can't take a joke or a ribbing, or a little rough horseplay, how can you handle a dangerous situation? To do this job, you must be physically and mentally strong, and able to ENDURE. Otherwise, stay home. We got no use for ya.

Undertand this testing. It is vital for your ship mates to know you're reliable. And it can be tough. This whole life style can be tough.

As for getting the job, this is number one: GET A CONTRACT! It's Alaska state law, and merely prudent. As any other profession, commercial fishing has its a-holes. So protect your self, and do not accept a serious job if the skipper refuses to sign a legally binding contract covering wages, food, etc. Some of these guys will really stick it to you, so watch out! BTW: if a boat is dirty and slovenly, it's also most likely unsafe. An owner who won't even keep the boat clean almost surely neglects basic maintenance and safety issues. Thus, generally, a dirty boat is an indicator of an unsafe boat. And a clean boat is no proof of safety!

For better or worse, hanging out in bars can gain you a great deal of valuable information. Like what fishery may pay, which boats are unsafe, which skippers are real princes, which skippers are thieves, who might be hiring, etc.

As for finding the job, utilize every avaiable option. Walking the dock, the bars, friends, hearsay, bulletin boards, church groups, anything you can think of. But, eventually, you'll have to talk to some old salt who's seen 'em all and heard it all, and convince him he wants you. Don't BS him. It ALWAYS shows.

One way that works, but can take more time, is to move to a fishing town - IF you have a marketable skill. It can get tough up here in Alaska, and if a guy can't pull his weight, he ought to go back to mama. Kodiak is good; so are Sitka and Homer. Dutch Harbor I personally dislike, and if you have problems there, you're usually on your own. Also, winters in Dutch are simply awful.

And, don't forget: a ROUND TRIP ticket!

Ken Johnson
Sand Point Alaska
Bottom line: you're dreaming. The odds of a novice even getting ANY job on a boat are not good. There's a lot of experienced hands who had to give up on commercial fishing, simply because there are no longer enough jobs to go around. So why would anyone want to hire a greenhorn? Better you should try to be a Hollywood movie star.

Last edited by itdincor; 09-29-2007 at 02:01 PM..
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Old 10-02-2007, 03:49 PM
227 posts, read 1,235,573 times
Reputation: 127
Well, if people come to make an overnight fortune they are morons. Simple as that.

I'm not doubting what you say, but if the fishining industry is in such a huge decline, how do rich folk keep eating seafood in Manhatten??? I read both the Maine and Alaskan forums and both say fisihing industries are declining, however the restaurant business is fine.

I'm 23 right now and have been hard working no complaining all my life. Farmer, house painter, carpenter. I am considering taking a trip to Alaska in March. I plan to look for a job. I have doubts about getting one. But if i did, i wouldn't expect a fortune. I would expect pay, but no different than what i make now. Money isn't what i'm in search for. I'd stay in New York for that. However, if i fail to get a job, it'll still be one hell of an adventure.

You say you're crippled at 60. Well let me ask you this. Is working behind a desk a ticket to live forever? People get old. I will get old. Working a deskjob isn't going to prevent that. It's what you do when you're young thats important. So many people are concerned about the future. I am too, but i'm not going to let that or fear or anything get in that way. I need adventure, life and death, sail to hell and back. I want an adventure of a lifetime even if it kills me. What's important in life is not a plan of retirement, it's your life and the life of the future generation. That's just my opinion.
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Old 10-02-2007, 04:40 PM
Location: Anchorage, AK
77 posts, read 225,127 times
Reputation: 33
You know, I really enjoy watching "The Deadliest Catch" but I think that parts of it have really glamorized the job. I suggested to my husband, joking, that he give it a shot. He got very VERY upset at me. To me, it seems that those types of fishing jobs are best left to those who are either raised in those communities and families or those who are truly willing to put in the time and effort...and willing to go through a boot-camp type training. I have a friend who goes up every summer for fishing in AK...and frankly, he doesn't really discuss it. He's always really happy to get back home....

Just my $.02

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Old 10-02-2007, 07:04 PM
227 posts, read 1,235,573 times
Reputation: 127
Yeah, I hear most people in the industry and born into it. As far as work goes i'm sure it consumes your life when you're active and is hazardous. This can be good or bad i guess depends on the person. some of us are workaholics.

I've been in many 'sticky situations' while working. I'm sure none compare to fishining in Alaska though. But i enjoy that kind of work, as long as everyone is sober and straight faced about it and not messing around being an idiot. I'm a very light sleeper and tolerant of a lot- i'd like to test that.

Not saying it's going to happen or even last. I don't know. I'm just going to take an adventure ride to Alaska in March and see what happens.
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Old 10-02-2007, 07:05 PM
3,774 posts, read 9,895,229 times
Reputation: 1834
My boss spent 15 years crab fishing (and other kinds of fishing in season), and his knees and wrists are shot. He has some of the best stories. They'd be unbelievable if his old fishing buddies from Kodiak and Dutch didn't pass through Anchorage all the time to pass the time with him. Personally, I have only scant knowledge of life on the fishing boats. I think that the life is extraordinarily hard.

The fact that the fishing fleets are declining is not an opinion. The quotas get smaller every year, and the licenses for the owners are often for sale with the fishing boats. You can find these boats for sale all over Alaska. For all I know, you can find them on Craigslist too.
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Old 10-02-2007, 09:03 PM
Location: Wasilla, Alaska
17,850 posts, read 19,589,140 times
Reputation: 6479
Cool Dose of Reality!

Wow! Itdincor, that was an excellent post. I'll be certain to reference it in the future when I encounter anyone with such ideas. Thanks!
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Old 10-02-2007, 10:49 PM
Location: Palmer
2,518 posts, read 5,871,034 times
Reputation: 1365
The OP was indeed an excellent post.

The advice about moving to a fishing town is good. It will be a complete change in lifestyle.

It will probably be easier to get on a boat during one of the off season fisheries. Cod fishing maybe. You won't make much money but you will learn the basics of working on a boat. Then you can work up from there.
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Old 10-03-2007, 08:54 AM
20,417 posts, read 26,539,344 times
Reputation: 13111
Great OP, should be a sticky.

I read both the Maine and Alaskan forums and both say fisihing industries are declining, however the restaurant business is fine.
Yeah, what with all that farmed salmon they serve, the restaurant industry is doing just fine. There is some wild Alaska salmon available in Manhattan for quite a price, but only just some--that small elite group can't support the entire industry.

My family is in the specialty seafood industry and has been for years. Since we work closely with the commercial guys, I can say that there has been a lot of changes in the industry over the years. The farmed salmon industry has not hurt us--in fact the bad press they've gotten has actually been beneficial.

But overall, the big money really isn't there in salmon fishing anymore and it really has been more of a family thing. Mal is right on here:

The fact that the fishing fleets are declining is not an opinion. The quotas get smaller every year, and the licenses for the owners are often for sale with the fishing boats. You can find these boats for sale all over Alaska. For all I know, you can find them on Craigslist too.
I know guys that didn't even take their boats out this year. I wouldn't count on fishing. But a young guy with some carpentry skills...you could do real well with that.
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Old 10-04-2007, 07:52 PM
Location: Alaska
273 posts, read 499,782 times
Reputation: 111
Metlakatla definitely knows what she's talking about. I can say this: commercial halibut fishing is mind numbing work.
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Old 10-14-2007, 11:46 AM
Location: Sand Point Alaska
41 posts, read 161,594 times
Reputation: 91
Bump for those who may not have seen this.
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