A Day in the Life of a Distant-Water Fisherman

February 02, 2021
Heather Munro Mann
Heading Out - January 11 2021
January 8 was a beautiful day – unusual for the central Oregon coast at this time of year. It was a small group. Much smaller than usual. Just boat captains this year and even then, there were only a handful. Covid-19 hangs over everything these days and a large gathering, while emotionally beneficial to the guys heading out to Alaska as well as the families left behind, would be completely irresponsible at this time. The annual blessing of the Distant Water fleet is usually a big affair. There is usually a ton of activity in the days leading up to the departure. During the blessing everyone takes a break from the preparations to gather together and spend a few minutes giving thanks. Kids and family dogs running around, wives and friends and busines partners all gathering at the Terminal. Pats on the back and hands shaken. Father’s hoisting their young children up. Paster Luke from South Beach Church delivering a prayer of safety over our local fleet preparing to make the 1,600-mile open ocean trip to the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Distant Water Fleet Send-OffCommercial fishing is a dangerous job by any measure. All over the nation, the world even, there are family members and loved ones who stay on shore while fishermen ply unpredictable oceans pursuing their livelihoods. There is a special group of fishermen who reside in Oregon but who spend part of their year fishing the waters off Alaska. Economic reports refer to these activities as “distant water fisheries.” Dozens of vessels travel from Oregon to the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska to take part in federal fisheries in those areas. They generate millions of dollars annually in ex-vessel revenue and bring that income back to Oregon to spend in the shipyards, on maintenance and on supporting several families per boat. Even with the bounty of Alaska’s fisheries, the days leading up to when the vessels depart are difficult. Scrambling to ensure everything is ready, packing the vessels with groceries and supplies all while ensuring the tanks are full of needed fuel but still stable to safely make the journey, unsure of what weather conditions will be encountered along the way. Many vessels flood their fish holds with water to ensure stability on the trip. Boats from Newport travel in pairs and/or groups- in case anyone runs into trouble along the way. I love that about our Newport fleet. These are fishermen – many of them from multi-generational fishing families. They love their jobs. The adventure, the unpredictability, the elements and witnessing the beauty and terror of what Mother Nature has to offer. I often wonder as they leave port, what thoughts are occupying their minds? Navigating the bar for sure, but what else? The trip ahead? Or the families left behind? This journey begins the day the boats depart Newport and lasts several months. -HM