The salmon fishery is intense. Every hour counts. Permission to fish for certain species is granted and rescinded for all fishing vessels on a schedule dictated by Alaska Department of Fish & Game and broadcast via VHF weather radio. The fleet working just outside Taku Bay where we were anchored, was engaged in a frantic last-minute hustle to bring in Dog Salmon before the window closed at noon of the following day.
In order to maximize time on the water the fleet is served by large vessels known as tenders. We met a tenderer, Jordan, whose LST Front Runner, built for the Vietnam War and now repurposed as a freight delivery vessel was tied to the float in Taku Harbor.
Young, handsome, well-spoken, Jordan was a generous fishing docent, and provided a raft of information about his business as he proudly invited us aboard to better observe the two working tenders rafted alongside. Jordan’s father and grandfather also tendered the fleet out of Petersburg.
Although he and his two attached neighbors worked for competing fish processing companies, he assured us they were all friends and enjoyed the camaraderie. This positive assessment was borne out by the prompt delivery of a plate of hot, freshly baked cookies proffered by the owner’s wife of the tender Matilda, known as Big Red.
We watched for an hour as huge quantities of salmon were exchanged for equal weight of ice, all swung from deck to deck by a careful crane operator.
The tenders serve as errand runners to the fishing fleet delivering food, water, ice, groceries, mail, spare parts – whatever is required, and relieving them of their catch which they return to the land-based processing plants in efficient circuits of supply and demand.
Tomorrow the window opens for “reds”, sockeye salmon. All the gill-netters must re-spool their boats with nets of the correct gauge for the newly opened fishery.
You ain’t supposed to get salmon when they’re swimming upstream to spawn, but if you’re hungry, you do. – Loretta Lynn