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Winter Observing On A Commercial Longline Vessel - Post #5

June 27, 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.

A chain covered in ice on the back of a boat with sea birds visible in the water. Credit: Rory Morgan, Alaska Observers, Inc

This day is a special day and can creep up on you if you are in a good rhythm. On this contract, it crept up on me for sure. The irregular sleep schedule that comes with longlining and the wintertime storms, with no sunshine for days on end, can make it difficult to keep track of what time of day it is, much less what actual day it is.

Life out here can be hard and can feel isolating. There really is not too much you can do to prepare yourself for these feelings. BUT there are things you know make you happy. Using those things to your advantage when you are in an unhappy place out here is important.

Day 45

Day 45 means this contract is halfway over, probably even slightly over halfway because getting to exactly day 90 doesn’t always happen–usually you are in the late 70s to early 80s when you’re pulled from your vessel because of certain regulations. On contract, for me, day 45 means I am close to perfectly halfway done.

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A collection of uniforms and high visibility gear for a longline vessel. Credit: Rory Morgan, Alaska Observers, Inc.
A collection of high visibility gear on the long line vessel. Credit: Rory Morgan, Alaska Observers, Inc.

I usually refer to my contracts as emotional roller coasters. Which might be slightly dramatic, but I am who I am. Day 45 is usually a leveling out point. Being happy that you’re halfway done but then thinking that over and saying man it's only halfway done, is a double edged sword for sure. That’s why over the years I have tried things to keep happiness in my everyday life. I also focus on small things. Life out here can be hard and can feel isolating. There really is not too much you can do to prepare yourself for these feelings. BUT there are things you know make you happy. Using those things to your advantage when you are in an unhappy place out here is important.

At this point in my contract, we have successfully completed two fishing trips and are starting the third. Fishing has started to slow down, as it always does this time of year. This means the trip will be the longest so far and we are going to have to just grind it out. For me this really means just figuring out how to stay focused on the line during my sample period when there is nothing coming up. This act of staring at an empty line can be hypnotizing. Very similar to watching fish go by on a moving belt which I've done for years now. But, when staring at the empty line you are in a slightly more dangerous situation on deck of the boat and leaning on or over the rail tallying. This is versus just being in a factory where you are most likely leaning on a wall or the belt. This is why you must be more alert and aware.

More Than Empty Hooks

On this boat there are a few guys who will sing when they are together at the roller. That is my favorite. It's my own personal concert; very entertaining especially when they forget I am above them watching the line.

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Reeled in leaded longline rope inside the ship without any fish. Credit: Rory Morgan, Alaska Observers Inc. / NOAA Fisheries
Longline rope reeled inside the vessel. Credit: Rory Morgan, Alaska Observers, Inc. / NOAA Fisheries

Being hypnotized by the empty line also comes with sadness because every empty hook means the trip just gets longer and longer.

In these instances, I like to make little games for myself to keep me alert.

For example, tally how many cigarettes the guys at the roller are smoking or try to figure out what the birds are fighting over because there is always a bird argument happening.

When the line is empty, the crew can also get bored and they will create games for themselves which are fun to observe. For instance, how far they can fling the bait off the hook back into the water.

On this boat there are a few guys who will sing when they are together at the roller. That is my favorite. It's my own personal concert; very entertaining especially when they forget I am above them watching the line.

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Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on July 05, 2022

Alaska Observer Program