I wrote a post a while back (“Business as Usual”) that described the start of almost every Washington Coast Dungeness Crab season. The past couple of days made
obvious that this year’s season was gearing up to begin in the usual way—weather delays, a couple of pumps that went out on the boat, and talk of a fleet-wide strike after one of the main buyers suddenly dropped its price.
I spoke with my family and some of our fishing friends yesterday about how this lifestyle is not for everyone. Things come up; whether it’s the engine, weather, price (you can’t fish for nothing!), catch, or crew, you simply have to accept that you have no control over any of it. The only thing one can expect is the unexpected.
Like our good friend Adrian, who was a Bering Sea fisherman and who Vis Seafoods is lucky to have had on site for the past ten years, simply said, “That’s fishin’.”
(Chiming in simultaneously was my sister, Cassandra, who fished in SE Alaska, and Jamie, who fished in Prince William Sound, and whose parents are Alaska bush pilots. We’re a salty bunch, can you tell?)
Anyway, because of the aforementioned issues, by noon yesterday, George had not yet left the harbor to dump his gear in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, when I talked to him, he was in Olympia, getting parts for the pumps. He planned to race back to Westport to attend the 1 p.m. meeting of the fleet that would decide whether they’d stand united in the harbor and strike for a better price (not even a “better” price, but simply the going rate until the going rate was suddenly dropped) or accept the reduced price and go fishing.
The result of the 1 p.m. meeting was that the fleet would meet again at 6 p.m. The Coast weather was set to come up anyway, so there wasn’t any real rush on the matter.
Well, at 5:55 p.m., my phone rang. “Change of plans!” George said with a not-amused chuckle. He sounded distracted and I heard engines; for a second, I thought the fleet decided to strike and he was back in the flatbed on his way home for a few days.
To my surprise, George was not on his way home, but on his way out to sea.
He quickly described how he had been in the engine room of the boat, several feet below the water, fixing the pumps when he’d became aware of an increase in noise and activity beneath the sea; engines and props firing up at a rapid rate.
“What’s going on out there?” he called out to Brett from the engine room.
“Boats are leaving!” Brett announced. George knew at once the strike was broken before it had begun.
“Put your tools away!” George called next to Bryan as he scrambled out of the engine room. “Start it up!” he said, referring to the main engine.
In moments, they too raced out of the harbor. He learned on his way out what had happened: Instead of waiting for the 6 p.m. meeting, one boat unexpectedly left the harbor, followed by two of the bigger boats, effectively ending the chance for a better (original) price.
“So much for solidarity,” said George, who estimates he was the 15th boat out of the harbor. He watched as the lights and engines of the rest of the vessels in the harbor lit up behind him in a domino effect.
“Well, like Willis says,” George had said earlier that day, quoting Bryan:
“That’s the way it goes
When you wear