Long Lining for King Crab on the Aleutian Spray (part 2)

[This is part two of five]

Mangor spent part of his time at a house near Monroe, Washington, part of his time in Norway and the bulk of his time at sea in the Aleutians.  His wife had forbidden him to take his camera with him when he went fishing.  He would bring home too many pictures of seagulls it seems.  Mangor evaded her enforcement of this rule by buying a bulk pack of disposable cameras for the trip.  I personally witnessed many snapshots of seagulls being taken.  At sea, he hustled around the cabin of the boat wearing clunky wooden slippers.  The hands would shake their heads and laugh when Mongor climbed the ladder to the pilot house in those things.  Mangor's accent was very clear, but he used strong uvular r's that sounded like a cross between the r's of a Scott and a Frenchman. This was especially evident when he pointed out Priest's Rock to me on our way out of the harbor.



The crew was surprised when I told them I was Alaskan.  They hadn't ever met an Alaskan Crab fisherman who was actually from Alaska. Unlike the others, I was able to buy my fishing license at a very reasonable price. I thought it was funny that to work on a boat that was required to have a $100,000 license to fish for crab, I would need my own fishing license for $35.

Still in the harbor watching other boats pass by I got an idea of the variety in the crab fleet.  It was encouraging that most of the boats looked older, and less well maintained than the Aleutian Spray.  Most other boats looked narrower, many looked precarious in the water to me.  I was sent to borrow a video from someone on another boat. The boat was very large and had a multi story pilot house that made it look like a miniature version of an old freighter.  At one point one of the deck hands pointed out the crew of a passing boat.  "Body by drugs," he shook his head.  The crew on the passing boat, working without shirts, did look a lot like the members of the Rolling Stones.

Not only illegal substances but also alcohol was forbidden on the Aleutian spray.  It was even against the rules, because of liability issues, to go out to a bar while on contract.  Of course, the "body by drugs" boat probably had a different policy. Before ever going to Dutch Harbor, I had heard rumors about the famous Elbow Room bar where supposedly they used to leave the chalk outlines from homicides on the floor as a sort of decoration.

I heard a story about another boat where the crew worked in a constantly drunken state.  Just the idea of hard labor while intoxicated is horrible to me, but imagine the safety implications. Remember that long lining for king crab is the most dangerous work you can do (legally) in the US, besides active military service.  The skipper on the boat of drunkards would wake his crew with the "two bubble breakfast and a sandwich." "Two bubble breakfast," meant putting a bottle of vodka in the deck hand's mouth and refusing to take it out until two bubbles rose. "Sandwich," meaning that after the two bubbles had risen, the skipper would offer the deck hand a beer.  You know, because "every beer's a sandwich."

Being the new guy and unskilled, I was given the least desirable job.  My main duty was to grind up frozen herring using a hydraulically powered shredder.  This meant I spent a lot of time in a gentle mist of tiny flecks of raw frozen herring.  I stuffed the shredded herring into bags and hung them in the crab pots.  When we caught king cod for bate, I would slice them into thirds and then hang each piece with one of the bags of herring in a crab trap.  This important role came with an important title, the rest of the deck hands called me the "master bater."  I'm sure that joke never gets old among crab crews.

We caught the cod using the same giant crab pots that we used to anchor the ends of our long line.  These pots weighed about half a ton each.  We piled the cod into a sort of pen made of boards and they would flop there until I was ready to use them or they slowly stiffened and died. I wouldn't cut the cod up until we were ready to use them and we weren't ready to use them until we were ready to bate the pots.  We wouldn't be ready to bate the pots until we were pretty much ready to put the pots back in the water.  Under time pressure, I had to make slicing cod into thirds really efficient.  There were no niceties, like bopping the fish on the head first.  I would hold the fish by the gills, prop it on the boards of the pen and try to get the tail third severed in one slice.  Often, rather dead looking cod would come quite alive at this point.  Fresh cod would struggle energetically.  I then would cut the middle from the forward third.  Some guts would hang off of the middle third or slough to join the slime in the floor of the pen.

A little like watching scenery going by out the window of a car on the highway.  I got a flickering tour of cod anatomy.  I noticed that a lot of cod had horrible cirrhosis. One of the crew told me that the closer we where to the Alaskan side the more cirrhosis you would see.  There also seemed to be interesting patterns in the occurrence of certain parasitic worms. At one point I sliced a cod through the gall bladder in such a way that the contents spurted right in my face.  A sweet bitter flavor leaked in between my pursed lips.  In the middle of the baiting process, I had no time to stop and clean my face.

Sometimes we would find octopuses in the crab pots.  I guess they chased the crab in and occasionally got stuck themselves.  I was supposed to cut the octopuses up for bate, and did once or twice when I was being watched.  More often I would be left to dispose of the octopus on my own and would discretely help them to the chute where from which they could escape to freedom.  The first time I did this more or less by accident.  I was contemplating the octopus with a knife in my hand when it started climbing the side of the stainless steel bin that contained it.  I watched it make its way straight across 10 feet of deck to jump into the chute.

[This is part two of five]
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