Breakdowns, destroyed nets, lack of sleep, financial and family stress- all this comes with the territory of commercial fishing. We will do whatever it takes to get the net back in the water and fishing again in hopes of that one big day that saves the season. It’s kind of crazy really. Not too many people are able to commit to the full ride of what it takes to be a commercial fisherman. It is especially difficult to be the woman behind the man making all the moves, this I have come to learn. Ashton is the type of guy that just will not quit no matter what the world throws at him. We have been through so much during fishing season in the three short years we have been married.
It started with a re-powering of our gill-netter the Brass Monkey. (You can read an article they wrote about our re-power in Fisherman News here ) We bought two brand new FNM HPE 300 engines and Almarin jets that first season before we were married. The financial stress alone was quite a bit for me but when the engines were lost in shipping (how someone could lose something that large I don’t quite understand) and we missed the first three weeks of the season, that was the “cherry on top” or so I thought. We eventually got out on the water and didn’t make any money because the run was so poor that season. Also, towards the end of the season, the starboard engine was running poorly and had to be replaced.
All was well for a season, but still, not too many fish to be caught. The season of 2016 that same engine goes out again and Ashton, being the guy that he is, promptly gets on the phone with a dealer in Wasilla and we head out. Wasilla is about a 5 hour or more drive from Homer. But on top of that we were stuck for 6 hours in traffic because of a wildfire! Tensions were high to say the least. We get the motor by 11 pm and have it installed and are ready to fish by 8AM the next day (talk about ambition!) I filed an insurance claim and fought them on it for almost a year before they paid out! That’s a $20,000.00 engine we paid cash for and then our insurance carrier tried to argue they didn’t have to pay us…. Right. I wasn’t letting that
one slide for a second! We went a year with a $20,000.00 deficit hanging over us. I should have argued they owed us the interest we paid on our credit cards that whole time.
Now let's fast forward to 2017’s season. We buy a seiner! The Hanta Yo. A man got Ashton’s number from our processor’s dock manager because he heard Ashton was a hell of a fisherman (we were the 2nd highest boat last season out of a fleet of 150 boats and top 5 out of 400 boats… No big deal..) and he wanted to sell his seiner to someone who was going to actually fish it and do well with it. He owner financed it to us for a really great price including the permit, seine and skiff. So naturally Ashton wants to jump on the opportunity because it has always been his dream to seine.
I’m not going to act like I’m super tough and a hardcore fisherman. Let’s be real- I homestead and I deckhand. I am my husband’s “eternal deckhand” as I like to call it. I love commercial fishing and the excitement around it all and the gamble. But sometimes it gets to me. I wasn’t 100% on board with the seiner idea. In fact, we fought A LOT about it. But I have come to realize that one isn’t successful by playing it safe. And I have always known and always said that “if anyone can do it, Ashton can.”
Well guess what, we lose one of the engines in the Hanta Yo a few weeks in because an alternator bolt randomly shook loose and the engine overheated- the alarm never went off so we burnt up the engine. We buy a new one for a cool 20G’s and are back at it. Then we lose a hydro pump, and replace that. We had two other random just dumb luck insurance claims we had to make this season already too. Then all is well and we are cruising along with 14,000 lbs of fish one day. But because of a bilge pump going out and a leak, we almost roll the boat on our first big fishing day.
We had previously installed a new refrigeration system and we filled the fish tanks with icy-cold water for the first time that day. There was slow leak from the fish holds into the engine room so our entire boat was what you call “slack tank”. This is when the hold is half way full of water. It is very dangerous because even a small wave can send all the water and fish to one side of the boat and the momentum will keep you rolling. And to make it worse, with our full fish holds leaking into the engine room, we lost power to our hydraulics and our boom was dropped over to the starboard side to balance a list we had on the port side earlier; now we were listing extremely bad to the starboard side.
I got into the engine room and started bucketing out water in hopes to balance us out and regain power to the hydraulics. After about a half-hour, I see we are listing even worse and water is coming in the side of the boat through the scuppers. I decided I didn’t want to be in the engine room below deck if we were going to roll. I give the hydros one last try and they fire up!!! We move the boom to the port and we are good to go. The Lord had His hand on us that day for sure. We wouldn’t have died or anything – we had a skiff we were prepared to cut loose and jump in if we had to. But we had just installed that new engine and hadn’t updated our survey so we wouldn’t have gotten the full value out of the boat if we rolled it. (Also, I was not pumped on the idea of arguing with another insurance company for a year before they pay out!) And the dream of finally seining would have been gone for that season.
Fishing is a passion that you have to have in your heart in order to really be successful. Ashton has fishing in his blood. He works hard all winter long running his construction business to make enough to support his family and make those boat repairs and upgrades. I am the first to admit that I have been critical of his decisions and his rash investments. But I am learning how this whole game works little by little.
This may all sound like a whole heap of bad luck to someone who hasn’t fished before, and some of it is. But in reality, that is just how fishing goes sometimes. Especially the first season with a new boat. But our luck didn’t stop there. It got better in one way and it got worse, much worse in another.
Part II to follow