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Winter Observing On A Commercial Longline Vessel - Post #2

May 31, 2022

Join fish biologist Rory Morgan as she braves the Arctic winter on a commercial fishing vessel in the Bering Sea to collect valuable scientific information as part of the North Pacific Observer Program.

icy deck of an Alaska longline vessel

Day 1

This blog will take you on the journey of my 9th contract on the Bering Sea. 

This contract started a lot like my first contract: 

  • Being notified of a flight 
  • Suggesting I pack everything important in my carry-on 
  • Waking up early to get to the airport 
  • Traveling all day: an anxious landing on the island, and then directly to the boat. 

Travel is always tiring, but the anxiety about an unknown boat and environment is an adjustment.

Thankfully, we have a Field Coordinator who updates you on the boat you will be embarking on during the drive to the boat from the airport.  This helps to alleviate some stress, at least for me.

This contract, my checked duffle and sampling gear did not make it in on the flight I was on. This meant our Field Coordinator had to bring me to pick up some basics at the store before getting on my vessel. She had warned me this might happen, so I did have a decent number of necessities in my carry on. But you cannot fit enough warm layers and rain gear for wintertime longlining in a carry on. 

As we wrapped up the shopping, we started the drive to the dock furthest from town. It is then your contract begins. 

That first step onto the vessel is day one of the 90 expected from a contract. 

This day is different for everyone. Usually for me it is the day with the most anxiety, BUT this time I felt a nothingness, a lack of my typical nerves. This was an interesting change. Maybe this comes with time. I don’t know.

Alaska longline vessel, noting where wheelhouse and factory are located

As we pulled up to the boat, some of the deck crew were smoking outside. They offered to help get my stuff onboard. One of the crew took my backpack and brought me to my room. Another brought my sampling gear to the factory. I got to my room and met my roommate. I grabbed my paperwork which needed to be done before we left the dock and went up to meet the captain. Our Field Coordinator had warned me that they would want to leave as soon as I got to the boat as the crew was already late to start fishing. Thus, the adventure began.

As we steamed through the bay, I set up my bunk in my shared room. I also set up my sampling table. After about 30 minutes of running about and taking a few wrong turns, I was ready to start working. 

interior of an Alaska longline vessel
A look inside an Alaska commercial longline vessel. Crew in the factory.

The vessel wasn’t large, but all boats can be maze-like. It’s easy to get turned around. After I finished all the first day activities and the boat was on its way out, I got in bed. It’s relaxing to lay down on a moving boat after a hectic start. The slight rock of the boat combined with the crashing of your adrenaline will knock you straight into dreamland. And I know that I will have approximately 15 hours of this glorious sleep before the lights flicker on and day 2 of 90 begins. 


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