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Get A Job On An Alaskan Fishing Boat

Updated on March 30, 2013

Fishing Boat

There are all different types of fishing boats. (And all different types of Captains.)
There are all different types of fishing boats. (And all different types of Captains.)

An Overview

Alaskan fishing jobs are one of the most sought out jobs in the industry and positions rarely become available. However, they do become available. I have read other articles on this topic and decided to write this one due to the fact that some of the articles I have read were quite vague on the subject.

The most challenging aspect of getting hired onto a fishing boat is gaining the captain's trust and making a good first impression. The captain knows that a good crew can either make or break the season. He has invested a lot of money into preparing for the season and doesn't want to throw it away taking a chance on a new hand the may get out there and just lay down. This is a very demanding profession and you would be subject to dangerous scenarios and implement weather conditions on a daily basis.

If you have no previous experience on a fishing boat, this will make the process a little more difficult but not impossible. The idea is to find an in, so to speak. Find a way to familiarize your self with the aspects of working on a fishing boat. If you have any experience boating at all, apply that to some of the characteristics of a fishing boat. Or, if you have experience fishing of any kind, for that matter.

The chances of you getting hired onto an Alaskan fishing boat siting in front of your computer, sending emails of your resume, are very unlikely. The first order of business should be to get to Alaska. An example of a good way to get aboard a fishing boat would be to get into a job closely related. This way you will have access to the docks where you can personally inquire about available positions. This is the most appropriate way, considering most captains will want to meet potential crew members in person anyway before hiring them.

About your best bet at getting an Alaska fishing job is to hustle the docks and look for a chance at an opening. I don't know too many captains that would hire someone without seeing their work first and getting to know who you are. On the other hand, you can land a seafood processing job at a shore-based fish plant with a good application and a little persistence.

King Salmon Roe

It may not be your job of choice but it will get your foot in the door.
It may not be your job of choice but it will get your foot in the door.

Get To Alaska

A great way to go about this is to apply online for a job somewhere in Alaska, (Anchorage having the most positions available,) at a cannery or as a Salmon Roe Technician. I say this because, there is great number of these jobs available and require no previous experience. Also, room and board and round trip transportation from the workers residence to the work site is provided. The pay rate for these positions range from $13/hr. to $19/hr.

Taking this approach would put you in a great place to begin pursing a career on a fishing boat. You would have a base of operation, pocket cash, and would be gaining valuable experience and know how to apply to the demands of a fishing boat job. Go to the docks and talk to the workers there and ask around town about openings on vessels. Check the local listing in newspapers and other press. Become familiar with the area and adjust to the native weather conditions. All of these attributes put you one step closer to getting that dream job in which you seek.

Canneries

Canneries, also known as land plants, buy fish from fishermen and package the fish to be sold to various companies. Canneries are in constant need of employees who are willing to work from 12 to 16 hours a day.

The majority of people who work in canneries are called processors. Processor duties are varied. This may involve gutting fish, cleaning fish, de-worming, offloading fishing boats, packing and freezing the product. To prevent monotony most bosses change employee duties on a regular basis.

Of course, previous fish processing experience is preferred, but usually not necessary. Any job that is similar to Alaska cannery employment will make you a great candidate for a job. If you have worked in a warehouse or any food processing plant you already have the type of experience needed to get a job as a processor. Also, any job in which you worked a lot of overtime hours is a big plus on your resume too.

Hundreds of canneries employ young and older people for a variety of jobs. If a potential employer is convinced that you will be able to handle the work hours and complete your contract you could find yourself far ahead of most other people on the potential employees list.

When a company is considering hiring you you'll be asked to attend an orientation meeting which details work conditions, what is expected of you, and payment. When hired you will need to sign a contract. Most contracts require that you complete three months of work with the company.

One of the easiest and fastest ways to get a job in a cannery in Alaska is to have a list of hundreds of employers. That way you'll be able to apply for dozens of jobs, thus increasing your chances of obtaining employment.

Here are some names of processors in Alaska: Trident Seafood's, Westward Seafood's, Icicle Seafood's, Peter Pan Seafood's, Norquest Seafoods, American Seafoods. Find their info online and call them up.

The job...

There are lots of types of fishing jobs out there, from salmon to Pollock to cod to flatfish to halibut; there's trawling, longlining, pot-fishing, tendering, and even processing (bottom of the ladder job). I think the easiest job on the Bering Sea is a Pollock fishing boat crew position, at least in terms of hours worked for pay received, minimal risk of injury, and abundance of the resource. Boats under 125 feet have small crews, though, and openings are hard to find. One way I've seen some guys get those jobs is to take a job on a longliner fishing for cod. There's enough turnover on those boats that you can usually find a spot pretty readily. If you work on the roller deck, pay attention, work hard, and get the crew and skipper's respect, you can move up quickly. Crew shares go up as you develop more skills. At the same time, when you're in port for offloads you can get to know other crew from Pollock boats or other cod boats, let them know you want to get into trawling, stay in touch and hope they think of you when a spot opens up. Alternatively, you could do what some guys I've known have done: Fly to where the work is and ask around. If you want to work, there's always someone looking for a guy with a strong back and a willingness to put in long hours. The first job you get might not be the one you want, but you'll be there when the boats are in port and you can meet a lot of the crew and skippers, especially if you like to drink a few beers every now and then.

Most of the jobs other than the Pollock/cod trawling ones are not a lot of fun, but most of the crew are hard-working guys you'll respect. If you've been in the military you'll recognize some of the same brotherly feeling. And if you decide to do it, try to learn from the smart guys who save their money and get out before the years at sea beat them up too much (or, the really smart ones who work toward being a mate or skipper).

The big money talk about commercial fishing is an illusion. There are ways to make a good living if you are in it for the long haul. You can't expect to show up for a season, find a job and go home with a fistful of cash. You have to take major sacrifices in the beginning.

A guy with no experience should be willing to work for free or partial share. They should do anything it takes to gain the knowledge so that you can "fake" your way onto better paying boats.

Where and when...

Commercial Fishing Seasons

The seasons can be cut short at any time by the Department of Fish and Game due to harvests. The seasons vary by type of fish, location and commercial fishing method. In general, the salmon season starts in May and goes through October. The shellfish season is year long. During the months of January, February, April, May, October, November and December herring is in season.

Commercial Fishing Areas

In the Cook Inlet commercial fishing is permitted for salmon, herring, shellfish and ground fish. The Yakutat area is salmon and shellfish. Fishing for salmon, herring, shellfish and ground fish is permitted for the southeast Alaska area. Salmon, shellfish and ground fish are commercially fished in the Prince William Sound/Copper River areas.

Commercial Fishing Vessels

There are seven different commercial fishing vessels used in Kodiak fishing: the purse seiner, gillnetter, troller, trawler, jig fisher, crabber and longliner. The purse seiner is used primarily to catch pink salmon. Sockeye, chum and coho salmon are caught with a gillnetter. Fish caught using the troller is primarily Chinook, coho and pink salmon. A variety of fish are caught with the other vessels.

Get going!

The best places to look for a fishing job would be Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Airfare from Anchorage to Kodiak is running around $200 one-way while Dutch Harbor runs as high as $750. The Kenai Peninsula is home to many fishing ports including Homer, Seward, the Kenai docks which are all accessible via highway from Anchorage. Additionally, there are many of other fishing ports throughout Alaska's coastline.

You're going to need some gear. The first thing you need is a crew member's license. These are running around $180. You'll also need insulated XtraTuff boots-$90, rain gear-$150 to $180, a sleeping bag-$25 to $100 depending on whether your bunk room is heated or not. There will be additional costs as well. Now if you add all this up you better hope you land a job and catch some fish! Furthermore, it's not uncommon to get "greenhorn" pay your first year out which means only half shares! If you're really determined to get a fishing job in Alaska, hustling the docks in Kodiak would be a good start. There are ways around some of the above costs and a few shortcuts with a little luck. Even though it may be a little tough at first, an Alaska fishing job is certainly a positive landmark in one's life.

However, put a lot of thought into what your intentions are before committing to any rash decisions. As I said before, these are quite demanding jobs that are not suited for everyone. A good number of people pursue this profession just to realize later that they get sea sick quite easily. Be prepared to be subject to working 15 to 20 hr. days and operating on little to no sleep in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. If you decide you can handle it, then its time to take action.

Good luck with your pursuit and be careful out there. Always remember, safety first.

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