Long Lining for King Crab on the Aleutian Spray (part 5)

[This is part five of five]

A piece of advice I got from the crew of the Aleutian Spray: never stand under hydraulics.  I have followed that advice religiously since and I have yet to be crushed by a piece of falling heavy equipment.

Ducati courtesy of macsony on sxc.hu

The people I worked with on that boat were some of the more intelligent people I've met in my life.  I mention this because most of them lacked a high school education. Whatever stereo-types you might have relating mental abilities with class, profession and level of eduction achieved,   these guys would have struck you as competent, self assured and self-confident in every aspect of their lives.

The youngest of the other crew members told me about how he enjoyed arriving in Seattle flush with cash after a long time at sea.  He once stopped at the show window of a Ducati dealership and bought a dual purpose Ducati on the spot.  He had previously taken a trip to south America on a dual purpose Honda.  For him, the freedom to do these things was all made possible by crab fishing.

The same guy told me the story of the last job he had before finding a job on a boat.  He was working in a laboratory somewhere in California.  He and several others had to count something they would look at under a microscope.  Everyone had to be completely silent to avoid messing up each others counts. One day the power went out.  The workers sat there silently in the dark.  In the distance down a hallway he could see the light of day coming in a crack through a door that was partially propped open.  He ran out through that door and never came back.

The deck hand who I replaced had spent a full twelve months in a row on the Aleutian Spray.  He was pretty burned out but he had earned $80,000 during that year.  This is sometime in the mid 90's and without a high school education.  I guess earnings like that were partially because of a boom in the opilio crab fishery that was coming to an end.

These guys were modern but they were still sailors.  They had a few superstitions they shared with me.  Don't whistle in the pilot house or you'll whistle up a storm.  Don't lay a hatch upside down on the deck; the boat will capsize.  Most people I know think the jolly roger is kinda cool and think of pirates as exciting characters from the past — most people aren't carrying a Somali phrase book on international talk like a pirate day. For these guys a pirate was someone who would pull up your lines and steal you crab, and suspects would end up with a jolly roger painted on their boat at night when they were back in harbor.

Crab boat owners take a lot of risks and, in their compensation, the crew is expected to share in the risk.  The crew works for a share on a contract.  Much of the cost of supplies — diesel fuel, bait and groceries — are the responsibility of the crew.  Your take home as a crab fisherman is a share of the profits minus the costs.  I was new so I had a half share, where a standard share was 5%.  One person had the additional responsibility of cooking and received an extra half a percent. Another had the responsibility and necessary skill to maintain the engine room and hydraulics.  He got a full extra percent.  My memory is hazy on the skippers percentage, but I think it was 14%.

Our quarry was brown rock king crab.  A variety of king crab that lives exceptionally deep and lives on craggy underwater mountains.  Brown rock king crab has special value in Japan but those values are not appreciated in the US market. That meant that the value of our catch was determined by the seafood market in Japan and the processing plant that would buy our crab was a Japanese owned company.

My five weeks on the Aleutian Spray yielded about 15,000 brown king crab. At an average of a little under four pounds each, that total haul weighed about 50,000 pounds.  When we had left the harbor, the cannery had been buying these crab for four dollars per pound.  By the time we got back they were offering 3 dollars per pound.  My net profit was about $3,500.  More than half of that went to pay for overhead, so I was left with about $1,700 before taxes.  I probably made something like $3.00 per hour of actual work, and that's before taxes.  I got a lot more value out of the experience itself.

[This is part five of five]
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