If you’re thinking of heading north this summer to get one of those high-paying fishing jobs in Alaska, you most certainly aren’t alone.  Thousands of college students, seasonal workers and adventure-seekers flock to Alaska every summer with the same idea in mind.  But don’t be too surprised if that fishing job eludes you.  Once you arrive in Alaska, you just might find yourself gutting fish in a fish-processing plant for $6.25 an hour with hundreds of other hapless souls from the Lower 48.

That's not to say jobs on fishing boats don't exist.  If you beat the docks looking for a job long enough, you might find one.  Whether you'll want it or not is another matter.  Fishing and fishing-related jobs are dangerous, tedious, and, these days, not particularly high-paying.  The safest, most lucrative boats with the most professional captains tend to keep their crews.  For most fishermen, this isn't just a summer job—it's a career and a family business.  Experienced deckhands know when they've got it good.  Any captain looking for crew before or in the middle of the season should be considered suspect.  There is a very real possibility that the captain smiling at you and offering up a job will turn out to be a screaming tyrant out on the fishing grounds.  He may be dangerous or a poor fisherman—and he may try to cheat you.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go.  If you are cautious, realistic about your financial goals and willing to put up with the discomforts of the job, fishing in Alaska can be highly rewarding.  While the work is brutal, it is also challenging.  Commercial fishermen walk with a certain swagger because they know what they do is terribly difficult.  They take considerable pride in how hard they work. 

Another bonus is the extraordinary beauty of Alaskan summers.  Unique to fishing is a closeness with nature few jobs elsewhere can offer.  Not many jobs allow you to watch humpback whales breach or porpoise play in the wave crest of your boat.  In Alaska, it is not uncommon to see as many as 50 bald eagles at a time.  In the midst of this beauty, however, you could be on the deck of your boat and you might not even look up to notice it.  Why?  Because you’ve been awake for 24 hours straight and all you want to do is get the fish in the hold and get some sleep.

Although the work can be brutal, the aesthetic value of commercial fishing cannot be denied.  Waking up in the morning, you can pour yourself a cup of coffee from a kettle on the diesel stove and sit out on the back deck to watch sea lions sunning themselves on rocks along the shore.  Or you can sit and take in the glaciers in Juneau, Homer or Seward, or the many waterfalls that surround King Cove.  Tranquil as that may be, you still knows that in an hour’s time you will be hard at work, trying to ignore the sting of jellyfish burns on your face.  Though the money to be made fishing in Alaska is greatly exaggerated, the intensity of the experience is not.  One thing is certain: fishing in Alaska is, for many reasons, an unforgettable adventure.


There was a time in the 1980s when salmon fishermen were making money hand over fist.  Since then, the price of salmon has dropped mainly because farmed salmon and overfishing led to a glut of salmon on the world market.  Fishermen who did really well a decade ago now find themselves cutting their crew size and crew shares to make ends meet.  Burnt out and underpaid, these same fishermen can’t even get out of fishing because no one is willing to buy their fishing permits and boats.  This translates to small crew shares, or percentages of money made paid out to crew.  Some fisheries are still lucrative, such as halibut and black cod, but jobs on the longliners that catch those fish are coveted and draw only the most experienced crew.

Crew shares vary from fishery to fishery and from boat to boat.  The general rule among boat owners is that 30 percent to 36 percent of the value of the season’s catch is allocated to crewmembers.  So, a larger crew will mean a smaller percentage for you.  If you are a deckhand on a factory longliner with 30 people, you’ll most likely make only 1 percent to 2 percent, but the price of your boat’s finished product will be high because the fish will be processed.  If you work on a catcher boat with four crewmembers, you might make 8 percent, but the price of the fish you catch will be considerably lower. 

One of the main reasons it’s so risky to go to Alaska and fish for salmon is that it’s virtually impossible to predict the amount of money you will make, even if you work for the best captain in the fleet.  The price fishermen get for salmon varies from year to year, and in recent years it has not varied to the benefit of the fishermen. Sockeye (red) salmon have plummeted from record highs of $2.40 a pound to a pathetic 60 cents a pound.  Pink salmon, the staple of Southeast Alaska’s purse-seining fleet, once fetched 45 cents a pound.  In recent years pinks have dropped to 5 cents a pound—a price so low that it’s barely worth the effort to haul the fish into the boat.  Fishermen hoping for big catches to make up for the low price of salmon also have received bad news.  There’s been such a glut of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska that fish processors have put restrictions on how much fish they will buy from each fisherman.  That means even the best fisherman can have a bad season.  

What this means for the green fisherman is that there are no guarantees.  You could make $5,000 to $10,000 in a season, or you could end up being handed a bill from the captain for all the food you ate.  If you want an earnings prediction, here it is: expect to get something closer to the bill than to the $10,000.  If you get lucky, you might walk away with a big paycheck you most certainly earned.  These days, however, that will require lots of luck.

Beyond travel costs, there also is an initial cost outlay for equipment. One of the first things a captain might ask you when you start working on a boat is, “Where’s your knife?”  You need more than clothes you can get dirty.  A captain will be less likely to dismiss you as someone who’s just looking for a paycheck if you have certain equipment essential to the work:

·        Rain boots, $60.  (Xtra Tuffs seem to be the only rain boot taken seriously by Alaskan fishermen.)

·        Rain gear, $120.  (Get Dutch Harbor or Helly-Hansen brand.  If you buy lame rain gear, you won’t be taken seriously and you will ruin it in less than a week.)

·        A knife, $8-12.  (Don’t bring a giant survival knife.  They may be good for skinning a caribou but they have no use on a fishing boat.  A small, serrated Victornox will work just fine.)

When to Go

Crews will be working on their gear throughout the month of June.  That is the time to find a job.  The closer to July you get, the less gear work you’ll have to do, which would seem to be the way to go since one of the annoying aspects of fishing is that you do not get paid for doing gear work, which includes mending nets and painting.  However, keep in mind that good captains will spend more time on gear work and maintenance of the boat.  Chances are they will have secured crews long before the season begins.  The chance of finding a quality captain looking for crew seems to go down the closer you get to the beginning of the fishing season. 

Meanwhile, the peril of showing up early to look for a fishing job is the very real possibility that you won’t find one.  Hoards of people go to Alaska every summer to find work on boats and instead end up cleaning fish in a land plant.  The earlier you go, the more money you will need to get by.  And if you underestimate your funds, you could be pretty hungry by the time that first paycheck finally comes in the middle of July.

How to Find Work

A captain looking for crew needs to know two things right off the bat: that you can do the work without quitting or crying, and that you will stick around to the bitter end.  On a fishing boat, you could be required to work upwards of 48 hours without a break of more than an hour.  While that doesn’t occur often, it does happen.  Even if you never encounter such a marathon fishing session, you still will be required to work harder, longer and faster than you’ve probably ever worked before.  Tack on to that seasickness, incessant jellyfish burns in the face (inevitable in Southeast Alaska), a sore back and the constant hustle needed which is absent from almost every other profession and activity with the exception of professional sports and war.  Learning to be a deckhand is relatively simple—it can be taught in a matter of a few days.  More difficult tasks such as tying knots and mending gear can be picked up quickly, as well.  What a captain wants to know is not whether you can learn the work, but more importantly, whether you can do the work.  If you have never done it before, he has no way of telling.  That puts you at an extreme disadvantage when looking for work. 

The key to landing a job on a fishing boat is to communicate to the skipper that working on his boat doesn’t simply represent a paycheck to you.  Make him realize that this is a job you intend to do well.  Here are a few things to remember when stomping the docks:

Come ready to work.  A skipper doesn’t care how nice you look.  He wants to know whether or not you’re ready to work.  Make sure you have the equipment listed in the “Money” section.

Offer to help with gear work.  A good way for a skipper to get to know you is by watching you work.  He can tell a lot about how focused and hard-working you are by working with you.  When given an opportunity to work, work hard, listen intently to what you are told and only discuss money in relation to negotiations for your crew share.  Lots of college students go to Alaska with minimal motivation and expect to skate through until the paycheck comes.  A captain can tell who he’s dealing with during gear work when prospective hires spend lots of time calculating how much money they’re going to make based on what kind of catch is brought in.  After you have settled on your crew share and expenses, avoid talking about money.  If you manage to get aboard a vessel, you will be under constant scrutiny.  If a skipper detects that you’ll be lackadaisical when it comes down to the grind, you should expect to find yourself back on the docks pretty quick. 

Be forceful but not annoying.  A captain wants to know that you truly want to work and you’re genuinely willing to do what it takes to be a member of his crew.  He also doesn’t want someone who will drive him and his crew nuts all season long.  Make sure you communicate how hard-working and focused you are.  Let him know you intend to take every job he gives you seriously.  But at the same time, don’t be pushy.  He’ll blow you off in a second if he thinks you’re annoying.  Remember, someone else just like you will be strolling up to his boat not long after you leave.

Learn to cook.  The greenest person on the boat, you can bet, will be the one cooking the meals.  Not many people like to cook on boats, and this is exacerbated by the fact that the cook is cut no breaks when it comes to deck and fishing work.  The cook makes all the meals and washes all the dishes and does it during lulls in the action.  If you let your prospective captain know you can cook, it will greatly increase your chances of landing a job.  But don’t lie.  If he hires you and you burn everything, you’ll soon be back on the dock.  And that could be the least of your worries if you can’t cook and you have to face angry crewmembers who have nothing to look forward to on long fishing days besides a hot meal.  No one is hated more on a fishing boat than a bad cook.

Safety Concerns

Between 1991 and 1998, 239 boats sank and 97 people died in Alaska’s frigid waters.  The number of boats sinking each year essentially stays the same, but the number of deaths is going down.  That trend can be attributed almost entirely to a shift in priorities toward safety on the part of good captains.  The disparity in safety between good captains and bad captains is growing.  Many bad captains and boat owners are tightening their belts and cutting corners when it comes to safety and crew shares, while good captains are making safety and crew retention greater priorities. Good captains understand that training, experience and survival gear can mean the difference between life and death on the water.

Poor captains who make less money are more likely to hire inexperienced crew and offer lower crew shares.  They also are more apt to shirk their responsibility to provide adequate safety equipment such as survival suits and life rafts, even though they’re required to do so by law.  In 1997 the LaConte, a Sitka-based fishing boat, sank while fishing in the Gulf of Alaska.  Two of the five crewmembers drowned as they waited for the Coast Guard to arrive.  If they had been equipped with a life raft and had conducted abandon-ship drills, all might have lived.  In sharp contrast, consider what happened the same year on the Alaska 1, a fishing boat that sank in one hour while fishing in the much colder waters of the Bering Sea.  That boat had a crew of 33, most of whom were seafood processors and not professional seamen.  However, all of them survived.  Why?  Because of good training and safety equipment.  All of the crewmembers were able to enter life rafts quickly.  They were lucky to have another fishing boat nearby, but they also were lucky to have a captain who took safety seriously.  Apparently they had completed an abandon-ship drill just two hours before their boat began to sink.

The waters in Alaska are dangerous, and experience and caution are required to avoid potentially lethal situations.  Since you probably lack the experience part, heap on a larger portion of caution, starting with how you pick your captain and boat.  The very best thing you can do for yourself is to be picky about who you are willing to work with.  The first few days you work with a captain are evaluation days—not just for him, but for you as well.  Look around at the boat and find out if it is well maintained.  Do you see wood rot that looks like it’s been there for years?  Is the boat filthy?  If the boat’s name looks like it was painted on with a house-painting brush, consider moving on down the dock.  Good captains take pride in the appearance of their boats.  Find the safety equipment.  Are there survival suits, life rings, fire extinguishers and a life raft?  Look down in the engine room to see if it’s clean.  A clean engine room is a sign that someone spends a lot of time there. Bring up the topic of safety and safety equipment with your captain.  If you explain your concerns without sounding accusatory, a good captain will be responsive and will be happy to talk with you at length about the subject.  It also will serve to show him you are not reckless and will be a safe deckhand.  Lastly, discreetly ask other people on the docks about the captain’s reputation for safety and his fishing abilities.  Fishermen are a talkative bunch and love to gossip about each other.  They also have admiration for effective skippers and know when a fishing operation is a sound one.

Women in Fishing

One of the myths about Alaska is that the state is home to hordes of men and virtually no women.  It may be true that more men go to Alaska to find fishing jobs, but there are many women in Alaska, and plenty of them fish commercially.

Regardless of what you may have heard, the fishing industry simply is not an all-male industry.  Women hold every conceivable position in the Alaskan fisheries, including jobs as captains of crab boats—one of the most dangerous and physically demanding jobs in the world.  Since fishing traditionally is a family business, it stands to reason that all members of a family would be utilized during the season.

That’s not to say that it isn’t more difficult for a woman to find a job on a fishing boat than a man, because it probably is.  And it’s also important to point out that fishermen don’t often attend sensitivity-training seminars.  Fishermen often are crass and vulgar.  For every intelligent, educated fisherman, there is one who carries pornography with him and refers to women by their specific body parts.  This is an unfortunate fact of the trade and a definite downside to the Alaskan fishing experience.  If, however, you are cautious and prudent and maybe a little thick-skinned, you can avoid awful situations.

Some things, though, should be remembered.  There are no separate quarters on a small fishing boat.  That fact may not bother you right now, but if you remember the pornography-carrying deckhand, it could easily turn into an intolerable situation.  Another detail to keep in mind: historically, if there was a woman on the boat, she was the cook.  This may be required of you.  If you’re the only green deckhand on the boat, too bad—it would have been your job, anyway.  But if there are two green deckhands, the job still may fall to you.  If you can’t cook, don’t want the job or find it demeaning, then speak up.  People have voices on boats and if you talk to the captain, you can probably work it out.  Diplomacy, however, is key.  Captains have egos, and they don’t like to be pushed around.  If you bring up the subject in a hostile manner, you might find yourself back on the dock.

Types of Fishing

Purse seining

The largest and most lucrative type of salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska and Kodiak is purse seining.  While all types of salmon are caught by purse seiners, most are pink salmon, or “humpies,” as they are known to fishermen because of the hump that develops on their backs when they spawn.  Because pink salmon are plentiful and relatively low-grade, they fetch a considerably lower price than other salmon species.  Fishermen make money only by catching large numbers of pink salmon.

On a purse seiner, a net approximately one-quarter of a mile long is pulled off the boat by a small but powerful skiff.  The top of the net is lined with cork, while the underside is lined with lead.  The net makes a large wall underwater as the skiff pulls the net away from the boat and then loops around back to the boat to form a circle.  On the underside of the net is a series of rings with line running through them.  When the circle is complete, this line is drawn into the boat, causing the lower half of the net to form a purse that captures any fish in the circle.  A powerful winch draws the net into the boat, and the purse becomes smaller and smaller until it is just a few feet in diameter.  The purse, which hopefully contains lots of flapping fish, is called the “money bag.”  Purse seining is an extraordinarily effective fishing method.  A boat with a good captain at the helm can catch more than a million pounds of fish in a season. 

Crew share for a first-year crewmember is typically 7 percent to 8 percent of the money made from the catch.  Subtract from that the cost of food and the crewmember’s share of fuel.  The percentage of fuel each crewmember pays is equal to that crewmember’s percentage of the catch.  A second-year crewmember will usually have a crew share of 9 percent to 10 percent; the most experienced crew will get up to 12 percent.

If you want to fish in Southeast Alaska and you are able to start looking for a job in the beginning of June, consider starting your job search at Fishermen’s Terminal at 3919 18th Ave. W. in Seattle.  Many purse-seining skippers who fish in Southeast Alaska store their nets and moor their boats at Fishermen’s Terminal.  These skippers do almost all of their gear work in Seattle as well, so most of them have their crews established long before they go to Alaska.  Also, because Fishermen’s Terminal is home to boats that fish in virtually every town in Alaska, you won’t confine yourself to one place.

If you want to fish in Kodiak, Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound, or if you can’t start your job search until the beginning of July, you’ll need to travel to the town in Alaska where you want to fish and pound the docks there.  The season generally lasts about 10 weeks.


Gillnetting is the most dominant and competitive type of fishing in Bristol Bay on the Bering Sea.  The fishery was lucrative in the 1980s and early 1990s, when red salmon, or sockeye, sold for $2.40 a pound.  Now, however, with an increased number of boats, plummeting fish prices (as low as 60 cents a pound) and smaller runs of salmon going up-river to spawn, gillnetters are barely making any money at all. 

In gillnetting, a net made of filament is lowered into the water from a large spool set (hopefully) in the path of oncoming salmon.  The salmon ram their heads through holes in the invisible net and get caught by the gills—hence the name.  The net is pulled back onto the boat by the spool, and the fish either fall to the deck on their own or are snatched free by a deckhand.

The key to making money in this fishery in Bristol Bay is precisely the reason it is so competitive: in order to catch the most fish, you must be in front of everyone else.  Since the one boat in front will intercept most of the fish, it follows that the boat behind it will catch fewer fish. And since there is no established system for taking turns, fishing in Bristol Bay becomes a free-for-all that involves flared tempers, boat rammings, fist fights and shots fired across bows.  It is far different from relatively gentlemanlike purse seining, where a captain makes a set and then moves away so the next captain can take his turn.

The places to find work on a gillnetter are in Dillingham and Naknek on Bristol Bay or in Kenai in early June.  The season usually lasts about five weeks.


Often considered the most enjoyable type of fishing, trolling lacks key elements needed to make it popular with commercial fishermen.  Mainly, there is very little money in it.  Many commercial trollers view trolling more as a hobby than as a way to pay a mortgage.  It tends to be an ideal fishery for people who want to come to Alaska and live on a boat in the summer.  In this way, with lowered expectations of money to be made, it is easier for a fisherman to be excited by moderately successful days fishing.  Meanwhile, many fishermen who depend on selling fish to pay bills must have spectacular days fishing in order to keep their homes.

Because it involves fishing with lures and does not require a large crew, this salmon fishery is closer to sport fishing than any other type of commercial fishing in Alaska.  Long poles are extended off the sides of the boat, and lines with many lures attached to them are let into the water.  The troller then runs his boat slowly across the places where he suspects fish may be lurking.

Trollers describe their occupation as an art form.  They believe their catch is dependent not only on luck and knowledge of where to drop the line, but also on other, more subtle nuances of fishing.   For example, a troller will tell you he catches more fish than do other people because he knows the exact speed to troll at any particular time of the day.  The troller also has his reasons for painting green dots on a red lure or leaving it plain.  If you enjoy fishing, want to see the Inside Passage and are not too concerned about making money, trolling could be a pleasant and memorable option for you.  Although many trollers opt to fish alone, some do take crew.  If it is a larger operation, the captain may pay you a daily wage of about $100 a day and not commit to keeping you for the whole season.  If you are given a permanent job and a crew share, 7 percent is average for a first-time deckhand on both larger and smaller vessels.

The best places to find jobs trolling are in towns in Southeast Alaska in early June.   The season lasts about 10 weeks.


Set-netting is done up to 2 miles offshore and in rivers in areas where salmon travel to reach their spawning destination.  Two buoys approximately 360 feet apart are anchored to the sea floor or riverbed by sandbags.  The top of the net is lined with cork, while the bottom is lined with lead.  As with gillnetting, salmon ram their heads into the net and get their gills caught in the filament.  During slack tides, which happen four times a day, fishermen drive skiffs out to the sites, pull the nets into their skiffs and pluck the salmon from them.

Crew shares for a first-time deckhand depend largely on how many fishing sites the owner of the nets has.  Small one- to two-net operations will pay crew shares of between 5 percent and 7 percent for a first-time crewmember.  Operations with many nets, however, will pay about 1 percent of the catch from every site.  Though crew shares may be larger at smaller operations, they catch a fraction of what is caught by the larger operations and the difference is not equitable.  There is more money to be made in a larger operation.

This type of fishing is done mostly in Cook Inlet and in Bristol Bay.  The best places to find work are where the fishing is done in Kenai on Cook Inlet and Dillingham and Naknek on Bristol Bay.

The season starts a little earlier in Bristol Bay, so you should start looking for work there in late May or early June.  For Cook Inlet, consider looking for work at the beginning of June.  The season lasts about five weeks.


Longlining is a method of fishing that targets bottom-dwelling fish such as Pacific cod, black cod, sablefish, plaice and halibut.  A buoy, flag and several hundred feet of line are tied to an anchor and thrown overboard.  Attached to the line are several more coils of line with baited hooks on them spaced about 9 feet apart.  These coils are released off the stern (the back of the boat) and allowed to sink to the bottom.  Later, the boat comes back, retrieves the buoy and flag and puts the line in a winch.  The fish are brought to the surface one by one and thrown into a hold.  If the boat is a catcher-processor, the fish are later gutted, cleaned and packaged.  If the boat only catches fish, then the fish are simply gutted and sold to a processor.  The main duties of a deckhand are coiling, baiting, gaffing fish as they come up, and gutting fish after the gear has been hauled.

Longlining is practiced year-round all along the coast of Alaska.  If you find a job on a longliner, it will most likely be on a catcher-processor, which has a factory aboard that processes the catch at sea.  Factory longliners catch low-grade bottom fish such as Pacific cod and plaice.  The size of a factory-longliner crew depends on the size of the boat, but it can reach up to 30 people.  A catcher boat will typically have a crew of five.  Both types of vessels fish mainly on the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. 

One of the only fisheries making lots of money in Alaska these days is longlining for halibut and black cod.  The fishermen on these smaller catcher boats have what is called an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) system in place that guarantees how much fish they can harvest each year.  This system replaces the derby-style method, which forced all longliners to fish frantically during openers that lasted only a few days, regardless of the weather.  The IFQ system is popular because it allows fishermen to take as long as they want to catch their quotas of fish.  Captains no longer have to fish in dangerous weather or exhaust their crews in marathon fishing sessions.  And, because longliners’ quotas are predetermined, fishermen have a monetary stability that fluctuates only with the price of fish, which tends to remain fairly constant.  It’s easy to see why there aren’t many job openings on longliners that fish for halibut and black cod.  Crewmembers know when they’ve got it good.

If you find a job on a factory longliner, your crew share will depend on your job.  You will most likely start out as a processor, which commands a crew share of 0.75 percent.  Deckhands new to the job will tend to get 1.5 percent.  Expect to make about $3,000 a month.  If you do manage to get a job longlining for black cod and halibut, you will most likely start out at 7 percent to 8 percent and make quite a bit more than $3,000 a month.  Again, don’t count on any amount of money.  Nothing in fishing is ever certain.

Since large corporations own most factory longliners, the best place to find work is at the corporations’ human resources departments in Seattle.  See the “Alaskan Employers” section at the back of this book for contact names, addresses and phone numbers.

Crab fishing

There was a time not so long ago when plentiful catches of Alaskan king crab were making fishermen rich in a matter of months.  That is no longer the case.  Thanks to overfishing, the king crab fishery is almost nonexistent today.  The only crab fishery making money these days is opilio snow crab.  Even the price on that particular crab is dropping.  Overfishing of the same species in Russia has flooded the world market and driven down the price.  It’s not difficult to find a crab fisherman who has a story to share about a heartbreak year he recently endured. 

In that not-so-long-ago time when crab fishermen were getting rich quick, lots of them also were ending up dead.  It’s no secret that crab fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.  That, unfortunately, has not changed.  Reforms in work safety in America have arguably left crabbing largely unaffected.  Twenty- to 30-hour days are still the norm, and high seas still claim boats every season.  Because of smaller harvests and plummeting prices on the world market, the pressure’s on for crab-fishing companies who over-extended themselves in the boom days.  They’re now fighting for their financial lives during the bust days.  This means they pressure their captains to work crews even more hours and in worse weather than ever, making an already extraordinarily dangerous fishery even more dangerous.  Fishing companies often lie to prospective crewmembers, telling tales of the vast amounts of money they will make, when in fact the chances of them making even $1,000 may be slim.  The bairdi snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea has netted crab fisherman almost nothing the past few years, but the fishing companies send their boats out anyway to try and subsidize the large payments they’re making on them.  It might be smart business for them to do so, but that won’t help you out since you’ll be working for a percentage of the catch.  After they deduct fuel, food and fiber, they might very well issue you a bill instead of a paycheck—and that’s not an exaggeration.

Because the money is so poor now, many experienced crewmembers are getting out of the business, leaving the work to less experienced crew.  The last place anybody should be is on the deck of a crab boat on the Bering Sea in the middle of winter with an inexperienced captain or deck boss.  Small things overlooked can quickly become tragedies north of the Aleutian Islands. 

Crab fishermen catch crab in 7-by-7-foot steel crab pots, which are 800-pound square frames covered in mesh.  The pots have holes on either side so the crab can get in, and a latched door on one side so the fishermen can get the crab out.  A large crane picks up each pot and sets it on a hydraulic lift called a “pot launcher,” which is located on the side of the boat.  The pot launcher tilts the pots over the side and drops them into the sea.  The pots are set in strings of 20 to 30 and are attached to 360 feet to 540 feet of line.  When they are retrieved one to two days later, the pots are either stacked on the deck to be placed somewhere else or are baited and put right back in the water.  While doing this work on calm water would be considered dangerous by any standard, this fishing is done in 15- to 20-foot seas, on frozen decks, in the wind and rain and sleet, for an average of 20 hours a day.  It gets so cold and icy that deckhands must be assigned the job of beating ice off the boat’s rails with a baseball bat so the boat won’t capsize.  Combine all of that with daily jellyfish burns, chronic exhaustion and dehydration from seasickness, and it’s easy to see why this miserable work can be as uncomfortable as it is dangerous.

Most jobs in this fishery are filled at corporate offices in Seattle.  (See the “Alaskan Employers” section at the back of this book.)  While it is possible to find work in Dutch Harbor where the crab boats go to work, it is unwise to do so.  Since most jobs are filled in Seattle, going to Dutch Harbor would only limit your ability to find work and would increase your chances of getting on an unsafe boat.  Also keep in mind that airline tickets from Seattle to Dutch Harbor cost at least $700 one-way and between $850 and $1,550 round-trip.



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