Salmon from the Copper River in Alaska are a big deal in the lower-48. They arrive each spring and fetch top dollar! Can you imagine the experience of being on a fishing boat, hauling in the ‘gold’ so to speak? That’s what Jen Pickett has done. If you want to work on a fishing vessel in Alaska, then hear what Pickett has to say!
In this exclusive AlaskaJobFinder interview she explains how a fishing boat operates, how people get jobs in the industry, earnings potential, and much more.
How much experience do you have in the Alaska seafood industry?
My first fishing job was a 24-hour halibut derby down in Petersburg, Alaska back in 1993. That next season, I hired on at the local cannery for about 6 weeks processing halibut then salmon until I found a job on a gillnetter.
I gillnetted salmon and long lined halibut on that boat a few years. One job kept leading to another.
I started tendering in southeast for both seine and gillnet, then tendered salmon for the beginning of the season on the Copper River Flats. I filled in once at the end of the salmon season on a seiner.
That next spring, I seined herring in Kodiak and Togiak, which led to a job gillnetting salmon in Bristol Bay. I also tendered herring in Sitka and Prince William Sound.
After 8 years of crewing, I bought in. I got a 28′ bowpicker and gillnetted salmon in Prince William Sound and the Copper River Flats.
After 5 years of fishing alone, I went back to finish my degree in Anchorage and swore I was done fishing. Two years later, I fished as crew in Bristol Bay and in the Copper, where I also mend fishing nets.
What made you want to work in the Alaska fishing industry?
I’ve always had a sense of adventure, like working outside, and liked to travel. Fishing kind of fits into all of those. The first time I saw a fishing boat go down the Wrangell Narrows and disappear off into the distance, I was intrigued. The first time I stepped aboard a fishing boat, I was hooked. Figuratively, not literally.
If you’re currently committed to a vessel, tell us about the boat or the last boat you worked on.
The last boat I worked on was a 32′ jet bowpicker that gillnetted for salmon.
Where was the vessel based?
We fished the Copper River Delta out of Cordova, Alaska.
What was your job title?
My title was crew.
Describe the job and your specific responsibilities.
My specific responsibilities on the boat were as follows. We’d run out on the tides to the fishing grounds the day before the opener. My job was to steer the boat to and from the grounds and try not to hit any sand bars. Skipper would determine where we would fish along the Copper River Flats.
It was my job to get the net ready to set, throw the buoy when ready, and stand by the power roller in case of a backlash as we set out.
Then as we picked the net, both of us picked and bled the fish as they came in. I’d pitch them in the fish hold and ice them between sets. It was wash, rinse, repeat until we got back to town.
I also did the cooking and mended the gear.
What roles do other people play on the vessel?
The skipper would get the boat ready to go fishing. He’d fuel up, get ice, and all maintenance. He’d determine where we would fish, how we’d set the net (according to weather and tide), tow on the gear, when we’d pick up, etc.
Is it possible to land this type of job without any direct experience?
I did. I think it’s possible to land this type of job without experience. A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time, showing you have a good work ethic and are willing to learn.
On the occasions you have down time, how did you spend it?
We would often play cribbage or dice, watch movies or read a book. Sometimes, depending on the skipper, we would get to go to shore and explore or have a bon fire.
What are the biggest and most common misperceptions newcomers have about fishing jobs?
I think people don’t realize that it’s a hard, dirty job with long hours. There aren’t union breaks, no overtime, and you don’t finish working until the work is done. It doesn’t matter if that’s midnight, 2 AM, or noon the next day. If you’re on board and you can fog a mirror, you are expected to work.
Would you recommend this line of work to others? If so, why?
Sure, if you have a sense of adventure, are independent, have endurance, and can play well with others, fishing might be a good job for you.
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