June 03, 2008

Sixty knot winds and plenty of Caviar

"Thats fish'n" as they say. What it means is, once you think you've seen it all, the elements conspire a curve. Tokiak herring is a highschool reunion for me. I get to see my childhood friends and catch up on all thier crazy stories from the year gone by. As the ice peeled away from one of the worst winters in twenty years, the Hearring made their anual pilgramage to the Northern Coast of Bristol Bay Alaska, where we lay there waiting. The fleet sat for two weeks before a single fish was spotted. Japanese freighters lined up on anchor, three dozen off season Berring Sea crab boats, thirty commercial fishing boats, and six bush planes, were coiled as thousands of tons of fish finally boiled into the bays.
With spotter planes swarming the airspace pointing out schools the fleet pulsed and sampled for three days untill the female roe sacks were ripe enough to catch.
If you can imagine the nerves of those who have invested millions to facilitate the fishery. Some companies were soo eager and had been sitting soo long that they wrecklessly bought imature fish.

We on the other hand waited it out. We waited, waited and when the fish finnaly rippened up, a steady breeze of sixty knots with gusts to eighty sat on us for three days. And at that point we regretted waiting. The shallow boats scurried up shallow bays grounded thier hulls and tied them selves to shore. The Crab boats, from Discovery channels Deadliest catch, were forced to weather it. Several boats broke their anchors and simply had to drive around in the wind untill the storm past. When the system let up the water was terribly churned up and the fish were no longer visible to the pilots. For the next couple of days the entire fleet drove around aimlessly trying to land dirrectly over a school of fish, recognize it on the depth sounder with out scaring them away, turning around and setting around it with their net.
The fish must be caught right at the moment they are ready to spawn, not before or after.A fish can go from green to ripe to fully spawned out in a matter of hours. The fish carcass is worthless. Its the golden herring eggs that rippen to an apetizing state, that are then used soley in one specific Japanese ritual. The whole show is for a little sack of eggs that sit on a fancy plate and the novalty Custom for the Japanese is even going out of style. Soon enough it will be all for not. One ton Herring fetches around 100 bucks.

In this senario there are so many fish that acre wide patches of water take on a velvit shine like the fish. A lone fishing hook pulled through the water will snag a fish, and we repeatedly used this method to sample the maturity of the fish.
We scratched around making little sets slowly filling our tenders,with good fish and got the wheels turning in the processing lines. Soon they would clog up as well and we would have to stand down while more fish slipped by. The stress built along with the frustration. The entire spawining activity lasts ten days and we had caught very little fish. Very little means around 2000 tons. The days slipped by with beach combing, campfires and card games but the stress and cabin fever continued to build. Caviar hung on every fathom of our net, globs pilled on the rails and deck, little eggs glazed our rain gear and stuck in our hair. We were smothered in it, but at the same time not getting any.

As the season closure loomed over our heads we snuck in another thousand tons. All of the sudden it was over, and we fled to our respective callings. Furtunitly the forces of supply and demand take effect and when you catch half as much you sell it for twice as much and some how it all turns out the same. And thats fishin.