It’s summertime salmon fishing season in Alaska!
My life currently revolves entirely around salmon. I’m working at a commercial fish buying station on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska called Cohoe. Ain’t no ho like a COHO! Ain’t no nookie like a chinookie! Hahahahahajajaja….
We make up a small crew, it’s just Patterson (Michael’s nephew!), me and our supervisor. It’s like summer camp for adults. Our boss, he’s an eccentric man with stories of working on the north slope in the oil industry and hand drumming on the beaches in Hawaii. He bakes cookies and pies and cakes everyday, rides his bike in circles and makes four feet long grocery lists. Today he’s polishing the art of making Thai iced teas. He feeds the birds and marks things like UFO sightings on his calendar. Next week is the week we’re supposed to see a UFO flying over camp. He does every year at that time. We’re unsure if the aliens’ calendar coincides with ours, so we’re on watch for about four days. I’m so excited, I’ve never seen a UFO before!
Our camp sits on a bluff right over the beach. We look directly across the Cook Inlet at Mt. Redoubt, an active volcano in the Aleutian Range. Down below, I can see our fisherman, the east-side setnetters, launching their skiffs and setting their nets. Later, they’ll go back to pick the nets and bring us aluminum totes full of fish in the back of their pickups. I’ll unload the tote with my forklift, set it on a scale and Patterson or TC will fill out a fish ticket identifying which species and how many pounds they weigh. Right now we get mostly sockeye salmon, a few kings and a few pinks, and even fewer silvers. They’re all shiny and slimy and awesome! Deliveries range between 100 to 1500 pounds for each fisherman two to three times a day. The price for reds has hovered close to $1.50/ lb.
It’s an interesting way of life and one that I hope continues to support them. There has been a political war raged against the east side setnetters in the past few years and I pray that it subsides… Really, it’s a viable and sustainable fishery that has been around for ages. Unfortunately the mouth of the Kenai River just up the beach is a popular sport fishing destination for tourists from all over the world. Fish and Game has targeted the east side (of the Cook Inlet) setnetters by reducing the number of days they can fish in order to allow the salmon to swim upstream into the nets of all the tourists with their deep pockets. Depending on who you talk to of course…..but, that’s my conclusion. Money is a powerful tool. I’m on the side of the setnetters that have been living and working this fishery for generations upon generations with little impact to the fishery or area. It’s super fascinating and I find myself caring deeply about the livelihoods of the fisherman here. I stopped at the store last week and the cashier asked if I was here dipnetting, and I just laughed at him. Hell, no, I said. Lol, I’m such a local now!Setnetting schedules coincide with the tides, so that’s the natural rhythm around here. Activity every six hours or so, with the ebbs and floods of the inlet. Of course, nothing is ever as it seems and trying to predict when the fish will get delivered is futile. Still, we’re always guessing and thinking we’ll be ready. Half the time I’m asleep and they have to wake me up…
The weather has been a brilliant mix of hot and sunny days with rainfall here and there and lately, more wind. When we got here, just before the solstice, nights were long and we never saw darkness. The land of the midnight sun!
I’m covered in fish scales and fish slime and it doesn’t even bother me. Showers are over rated and hardly worth time most days. I sleep on top of my bed with all my clothes on, usually between the early hours of the morning, or I stay up and take naps during the day between deliveries. After all the fishing the big trucks start coming in and I spend the rest of the night loading them with the forklift. It’s exhausting but pretty rad too. I love how confident I’ve gotten with the forklift. It’s fun spinning out and getting the wheels off the ground! Ha, you don’t believe me, but it’s true, I’m a super speed demon operator!
The most important qualification for this job is having the ability to stay awake. You can get fucked up, fuck shit up and still have a job, just as long as you’re here. True story. They’ll even bail you out of jail they’re so desperate to keep workers. I don’t get it. Alaska has high unemployment rates and Icicle can’t recruit anyone that can stay out of trouble. Well, maybe an exaggeration, but only slight. It’s not like that here at Cohoe, but all over in the company. I got lucky, Patterson and I are definitely working at the cream of the crop station. It’s beautiful, we get a lot of hours but not a ton of fish (more pay, less work), our boss is supremely chill and all the fisherman that sell here are easy to work with. The most difficult aspect of the job, besides staying awake, is getting along with all the crazy people running the show. On a normal day the trucks are late or somehow completely forget to pick up our 30,000 pounds of fresh, wild-caught salmon sitting on my concrete pad. It goes to Seward for processing. An hour and half away maybe. I’m often asked to load a truck full of fish or empty totes, just to be told to unload it five minutes later because the guys in Homer can’t count to 26. The list goes on. I get paid to move shit around whether it needs moving or not. It’s so ridiculous I can’t even describe. Most days I’m convinced Patterson and I could run this whole show by ourselves better than the half dozen yahoos they have doing it. It drives us crazy and all we can do is shake our heads and marvel at our 119 hours/week paychecks.The chaos is totally worth it, and sometimes just part of the fun! Patterson might not totally agree but in a way I think he likes it too. He better because he has to come back next year. It won’t be the same if I do without him!
Seasonal work is the way to go! Work hard and then PLAY hard! I haven’t had a day off in 32 days and I haven’t spent a dime. I barely even have time to drink beer! That’s working hard! Did you know we’re thinking about a trip to Vietnam this winter? Unless you have another suggestion for us? We really are open to ideas! Fun ones!
Michael has been running a station down the road on the Kenai River. He’s a positive influence doing a lot of good at a station (imagine that! in the Icicle Seafoods land of utter chaos!). I miss having him by my side but he did arrange it so I got to work with Patterson so at least I have a friend! It’s really been a blessing to get to know Patterson and spend so much time with him. As soon as his little sister, Presley is old enough I’m inviting her up here too ! I’m so glad Cota and I drove out to Texas this year to hang with his family. I’m hooked.
I can hardly believe how long it’s been since I’ve written a blog post. SO much has happened! We made it to Oregon and continued our drive up the Olympic peninsula and took a ferry from Washington to southeast Alaska and drove 900 miles through the Yukon and south central Alaska to get here on the Kenai Peninsula, finally! Whoa, long sentence. And so long ago! Texas was forever ago! The journey here seems like a different lifetime. The last four weeks we’ve been working around the clock with not a lot of free time. I don’t have wifi here but we are far from roughing it. I have my own little cabin/shed, complete with a cat door for Sophie and all the joys of hot water and electricity. It’s perfectly simple. We have horseshoes, a golf course we cut through the fireweed, a trail to the beach, bikes, ponds (I swam in Alaska!), the ocean, and lots of fish to keep us entertained, not to mention all the insanely interesting characters our lives are currently meshed with. Fish camp is crazy fun! Plus, I’ve learned the art of smoking salmon and canning it! It’s so good!I’m attempting to post this on my phone and I’ve written the whole thing tap tap tapping away with my thumb so if it looks funny or feels short, it does to me too! But it’s been too long, I’ve missed you ! Tell me what summer is like where you are!
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. – Jacques Yves Cousteau