After a couple days of enjoying some land time in Petersburg, I was assigned my next vessel in Sitka, but because it is the height of the busy cruise ship season, my last minute flight would take me on the “milk run” through Wrangell, then I would disembark in Ketchikan and finally board another plane to Sitka. It’s not uncommon in the spring to hop from port to port in southeast Alaska. Although it can be exhausting having to pack up and move every few days, it keeps the job interesting and provides an opportunity to see all the best parts of the southeast region.
Sitka is a lovely port where I previously observed on several vessels targeting halibut and sablefish. My boat in Petersburg had fished inside waters where boats are usually more sheltered from major storms occurring on the open ocean water. In comparison, my Sitka assignment would be very weather dependent since we would be at the mercy of temper tantrums of the big blue.
This boat was only a tad larger than my last one, and a snap gear longliner. Observing on a vessel using snap gear can elicit two types of responses from observers: hate or love. Vessels using snap gear usually have a very large spool of groundline, and each hook is snapped individually by one or two crew members as the line is deployed. In order to measure effort, we have to count every hook on the groundline. The best and easiest way to do this is to use a tally counter while the gear is deployed. Sounds easy right? Wrong. Depending on how fast the crew is setting and how many hooks they are snapping, I could be standing in the same spot for more than 30 minutes at a time. Winter season temperatures dropping into the teens makes this an even more brutal task. Standing in one place for that long, and trying to maintain acute focus on the groundline is not conducive to feeling warm and cozy.
Another downside to sampling on snap gear vessels is the potential for crew to be able to turn gear around very quickly. Hooks are unsnapped and stored on a rack or tub as the groundline is retrieved. Gear can be quickly baited since the gear does not need to be unraveled like conventional “stuck” gear. I think it also helps prevent a lot of large snarls other boats may see on conventional longline vessels. But it’s spring and the boat will be targeting halibut where quality trumps quantity. The halibut fishery usually pays a lot better than the winter Pacific cod longline fishery. I had imagined this next trip to be yet another fairly laid back observing experience.