Jostling rhythmically in a two-square-foot bunk that feels more like a coffin, I attempt to rest. The smell of diesel and dampness fills my nostrils, while the engine noise drowns all other sounds. Sleep comes and goes until the alarm sounds from above….It’s time to head to deck. The fish are coming aboard. It’s 4:46 a.m.
Ah! The romantic allure of a fisherman’s life!
Truth is, there’s very little about commercial fishing that is romantic. While we revere the fishermen we work with, we certainly don’t envy them. Working on a commercial fishing boat is no easy task. Fishermen battle elements armed with a lack of sleep and food to bring us Mother Ocean’s incredible bounty.
Many trips get started about the same time as late-night television, between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., and steam a few hours out to the fishing grounds. During the steam, the crew gets the deck ready before heading below for a little shuteye.
Once the captain (who usually doesn’t sleep a wink the entire trip) is ready to haul, he sounds an alarm or yells down to his crew. Like a squad of firemen, they don their rubber gear, or “skins,” and get on deck in the blink of an eye. The action begins.
For the next eight or so hours, the crew are on deck, setting and hauling gear, cleaning and icing fish, lifting 100-pound totes. Some boats rock to 80s hair bands, others roll to classic country, while others work in silence, preferring the serenity of the ocean’s waves and the seagulls in the distance.
After the fishing ends, boats steam back into the harbor. The crew cleans the deck and gets the fish ready for offloading.
It’s not a sexy way to make a living. One of a captain’s biggest challenges is finding a reliable crew. Boats that once had two or three crew members are down to just one. We’ve even heard of captains making solo trips, unsure whether they can pay a crew person after the final settlement.
But it is a passion.
Watching the sun begin to rise over the sea and a pod of dolphins by my side, I keep an eye on the radar. A swell of fish appears, and the net sensor alerts me the cod-end is full. My chest swells. What hand have I been dealt? It’s 4:46 a.m.