10 Jul Petersburg & Wrangle Alaska
It’s salmon season and the purse seiners are out in full force. As we cruise down the east coast of Baranof we see the seiners with their nets out, and their sein skiffs noisily pulling in their nets in the process of closing the net into a continuous purse. The fish tenders are standing by ready to offload the fish as soon as the purse sein skipper gives the order.
While in Petersburg, next to where we were moored at the North Harbor Pier, the fish tenders were offloading the salmon at the Trident Fish Company docks. The tenders play a critical role by standing at ready next to the sein fleet so they can take the seiners’ fish, especially if the boat is overloaded. Sometimes the seiners are loaded to the point of being unstable, and more than one seiner has been so overloaded with fish that it has capsized.
I was raised on a missionary hospital ship. We were stationed year-round in SE Alaska and as little kid, I was fascinated by the commercial fishing fleet. While I was being home schooled on board the ship, instead of doing my studies I would be drawing pictures of seiners and other commercial fish boats. When I was allowed to have a jackknife, I would get a piece of driftwood and carve out models of their hulls. As an adult, whenever I get near the fishing fleet at work, I spend as much time as I can taking pictures, and when I’m tied up next to them I feel like I’m home. Last night I was admiring a wood seiner tied up right aft of Starr here in Wrangle. I complemented the skipper-owner, Jim Waltz, on keeping his boat in immaculate condition and asked about the boat’s history.
Jim invited me on board for a dinner of King salmon and we talked boats. Jim’s boat, the Ivor P Nore, was built in 1959 here in Wrangle Alaska, and Jim is the 3rd owner. The boat was built by Invold Nore and named Ivor P Nore in honor of Invold’s father Ivor, a Norwegian immigrant fisherman. The boat has a 440hp Cummins N14 main engine. We talked about sein skiffs and the power they need to pull the sein net out into a purse to trap the fish. Jim’s skiff has 260hp but some of the newer sein skiffs have as much as 550hp. Skiffs are typically 16-24ft in length.
The skiffs not only help make the purse but they also can play a critical part in holding the seiner in position so the net full of fish doesn’t get tangled up in the seiner’s running gear. Sometimes the wind and or current push the seiner right over the top of their net if it weren’t for the towing power of the skiff.
Jim gave me a helpful two-minute video of his setting and hauling in the net.
This is the point where in some cases seconds count. When the salmon are spotted on the sounder or sonar, the skiff is cut loose with one end of the net and pulls straight away from the seiner. The seiner is running at full speed, 9-11 knots straight out, and the net is flying off the stern. The net is typically 250 fathoms (1500ft) long. It takes about 5 minutes to deploy the net. The seiner then starts a slow towing of the net while the skiff is towing the tail end. There is tacit agreement with the other seiner boats that 20 minutes is adequate towing time to catch whatever fish there are. The objective of towing is the corralling of the fish before closing up the purse. Both the seiner and the skiff meet after the purse is completed. With the skiff back at the seiner the crew haul in the bottom purse line thru a short davit which is abeam of the capstan next to the mast. The faster the crew haul and coil the purse line the fewer fish can escape. The purse closing and dumping of the fish onto the deck and into the chilled water in the fish-hold takes about 15 minutes. That makes 40 minutes per full set.
Now it’s time to do it again!
Jim says that sometimes it is seconds, not minutes, that can make a world of difference in your catch. It also helps to be an expert at using the sonar to locate the schools of fish. Jim is so proficient at sonar reading that other boats fly him to their boats to do nothing but read their sonars to locate the fish.
This is hard work and for most of the fishermen it’s their passion.