How I came to work in commercial fishing

I dropped out of college at the end of my first year of graduate school. The reason I dropped out was largely the result of depression brought on by angst at not being suited to success in romance. I'm pretty used to that situation now. It's no longer a source of angst. After college, I spent a year living a my parents' place in WV, doing some carpentry type work for my parents at night. Then, in June of 1988 I moved to Western Washington and started looking for work. I went to the library and found everyone who might employ someone who had a BA in Physics, and I sent them all employment applications. However, I was being really honest in those days, and I made it a point to write on any job application where I thought I might work permanently that while I can get along with co-workers ok on a professional basis, I'm not a people person. None of them were interested in hiring me. The job I got was with Evergreen Temporaries, and they leased me out to Sun Sportsware. I did warehouse work for these people until I got my first job in fishing, for Deep Sea Fisheries, as crab processor o/b The Deep Sea in Akutan. The reason I switched from a labor job in a warehouse to a labor job on a boat was that the warehouse job wasn't paying the bills. The wages for one day of my five day week paid for the gas to drive to work. I had used credit cards to furnish my homemeade travel trailer, and I had those to pay off and also student loans to pay off. I stayed five months at that first contract in Akutan. I realized right away that the job in fishing I wanted was engineer or electrician, so I started looking for unlicensed engineer positions advertised in the newspapers. The rest can be found in my resume.

I find that the two things I like most are the money seems better than most other jobs that don't stem from university education, and the schedule lets me have my time off in big month-long chunks. 50 weekends a year plus two weeks a year vacation adds up to 114 days, or a little more than 3 1/2 months off per year. I'd rather work the 12 hours a day, 7 days a week when I'm working and have my time off in larger chunks. This is especially true as I'm in this work to get money, not because I'm in love with it. Most of the stories I've heard about people who try to extract money from doing something that they love doing have taught me that for most people, this is a way not to love that occupation any more. I have no problem with doing a job just to get money. Another thing I like about commercial fishing is that you don't have to pretend to like your job so long as you produce results. Another thing I like about being a licensed chief engineer (w/o a bad reputation) in commercial fishing, is that I can quit any job and not worry about finding another the next time I'm looking for work.

Why I chose to leave commercial fishing

First, the regulatory climate sucks. Every governmental body possible wants to regulate commercial fishing vessels. The companies don't mind complying, so long as compliance doesn't slow anything down or cost the company any more money. It generally falls to the captain and the engineer to certify compliance for or prep the vessel for inspection by all these agencies. The agencies threaten our license, and the employer threatens our money (or is just slow about getting the materials to the vessel or informs us of the need to have signed documents or an inspection at the last minute or doesn't provide the downtime necessary to make the necessary changes to comply). I have to think that life will be better on boats that don't have factory workers and environmental responsibilities relating to the interaction with wildlife (eg observers) on top of the standard responsibilities relating to basic vessel safety, structural integrity, and pollution prevention.

Second, fishing companies are always trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. I've seen various methods. Insufficient downtime to maintain the boat, not sending necessary parts and not paying the factory workers a living wage are some I've encountered. I don't want to work in this environment. There's a few wealthy factory trawlers and crab catchers that succeed in doing it right.

So, why not one of those wealthy crab catchers or factory trawlers? First, those jobs are hard to come by because they're simultaneously nice and high paying. Second, I've always been too slow to work crab deck, and I don't see myself as a good fit for the supervisory requirements and interacting with the large crew size on factory trawlers. Everywhere else that I've encountered, it's lots more hassle to do it right, but not any more money.
Note: I think it could be more money, if the vessel owners were able to market their product directly to consumers, but I've had this conversation lots of times. With the notable exception of Trident (and maybe Glacier), it ain't happening.

Note, October 2017 - Why I can't leave commercial fishing.

It turns out leaving fishing won't work for me. When the Coast Guard first wanted us to get STCW documents, I got one. When I took the class, one thing the instructor told me was that if I ever don't submit enough seatime for my license to automatically renew, the re-test is a take-home exam. I'm good at exams, and fishing companies had generally made me hassle them to get seatime letters, so I didn't bother, and it was in the Summer of 2009, while working on board the Alaska Juris that I took and passed my take-home exam. What I don't remember being told was that, in order to renew the STCW document, one has to re-take that Basic Safety Training class (or rather, I have since been told, a BST - refresher class). The Commercial Fishing Industry doesn't care about STCW documents, because their vessels are always inside the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, so I was in no hurry to re-take that class. Finally in 2016, I retook the BST refresher, and then in 2017 I took the Engine Room Resource Management, Leadership and Managerial Skills, and Management of Electrical and Electronic Control Equipment classes mandated more recently. However, when I applied for the STCW document, the USCG told me they also want copies of the Record of Assesments performed by my STCW holding supervisory officers. Except, having worked in Fishing, no such assesments were ever performed, and as likely as not, I didn't have STCW holding supervisory officers. In order to get a job where such assesments could be performed, I'd need to have the STCW document I lack owing to lacking the assesments. So I've been Catch-22ed out of leaving commercial fishing without restarting my career, a restart that would have me at retirement age before I got back to where I am now. I can't say that this same thing will happen for anyone else, but this is how it's been for me.

Here's a link back.