Is it true that commercial fishermen in Alaska are getting rich? Andy Zuanich explains how deckhand pay is calculated and much more about the Alaska seafood industry.
Zuanich has been fishing in Alaska for many years. Some of his insights are included in the excerpt below.
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How much experience do you have in the Alaska Seafood industry?
I started fishing at the age of 14, so 17 years ago. I’ve fished for halibut, black cod, cod, pollock, Dungeness crab, sole, and salmon.
Tell us about the boat you work on.
Our boat is a 58 foot boat that target halibut and black cod using long lining. The boat is based out of Sand Point, Alaska.
What’s your job title?
Describe the job. What are your responsibilities?
Running the roller, cutting the fish, icing the fish, cleaning the boat and cooking.
What are the terms of your employment?
The job is seasonal, and nothing is guaranteed. If you do your job well, you will be asked to come back for next season.
How is your pay determined?
You are payed a percentage based on your level of experience and performance. Food, fuel, and bait are taken out of everyone’s pay.
Besides "on the job" experience, are there any personal qualities you would need in order to get into this unique line of work?
An easy going personality is important. It’s important that everyone gets along on the boat. Hard work and determination are important too.
Describe pay a little more, especially for newcomers.
You can expect a half share of pay, meaning you get paid half of what the experienced guys get. How you get treated depends on your performance and how much effort you put in, but it also depends on the skipper and crew. Some guys can be understanding, and some are just jerks.
On the occasion you have down time, how do you spend it?
Sleeping, hanging out on the boat watching movies or reading. In town I surf the Internet and sometimes go to the bar.
What are the biggest misperceptions newcomers have about these jobs?
That they are going to make a ton of money right away. It doesn’t always work out that way.
Would you recommend this line of work to others, if so, then why?
Yes, because the pay can be good and it is exciting.
I like the long stretches of time off in between seasons, and the money that allows me to enjoy my time off.
What do you and the other crew do to keep a positive attitude?
We joke around and laugh a lot. We tease each other and try not to take ourselves too seriously.
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