Topping Off the Tanks

“No doubt about it. Fishing is a hard way to make a buck…Pile on top of that the worry about the health of the industry, the physical wear and tear, and the separation from family and you’ve got a career that is so difficult, most human beings wouldn’t last a minute in it.”

(Letters to Fishing Families

Oregon State University/Extension Sea Grant/Fishing Families Project)


George has been home from the Alaska halibut and blackcod season for about two weeks now. So far, the adjustment from sea to shore, boat to home, and crew to family has gone rather smoothly. Far smoother than usual, in fact. We’ve just been too busy this time around with continuing obligations, commitments, and two tiny children to allow room for our usual (loving, of course!) bossiness and stubbornness to have any real impact.

As soon as we celebrated the end of the season with the customary crew dinner, George was back to work. He’s been cleaning the fuel tanks on the boat and grinding, priming, and painting rust spots. I heard him talking to someone on the phone today about the schedule to haul the boat out in order to sandblast and paint the bottom.

I’ve been working much harder than usual on my projects and enjoying teaching Jazzercise at my new location. We finally set a date for our family trip, and the basement renovation is moving forward at breakneck speed.

Even though things are going well, I feel the slightest sense of foreboding. Marine diesel is $4.20 per gallon. To fill the boat’s tanks from scratch would cost about $36,000. However, when George goes to fill the tanks tomorrow, it won’t cost quite that much. Because they burned about 7000 gallons of fuel during the Alaska halibut and blackcod longline season, topping off the tanks will cost about $28,000.

The cost of marine diesel affects more than the checkbook, however. It also impacts what, if any, summer fishery George will participate in. The cost of fuel is currently so high that the profit margin on a summer fishery could be so narrow it may not be worth the risk to go do it.  And he isn’t alone–that much became clear  while reading through the most recent Western Fishboat Owner’s Association newsletter.

I walked into the living room today and noticed George digging around in my files.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“A letter,” he answered.

“I haven’t seen one,” I said, mentally picturing the sort of mail I receive and deal with while George is gone fishing: explanation of benefits from the insurance company, household bills, Fidelity statements, moorage and storage from Westport to Seward and every port in between.

“Nope,” I said. “I never saw a letter.”

“It came last January,” said George.

January, January, I thought. Let’s see. George was crabbing…Vincent was six months old…I was teaching Jazzercise…

“No,” I said again. “I never saw a letter. If I’d seen a strange letter, I would have put it in your pile and waited for direction on what to do with it.”

Well. I decided my best move would be to sit in my pink chair and admire my piles of folded laundry while George searched for the letter and made a series of phone calls. I was still sitting there when he came in to give me the update on the missing letter. Following the rundown, I was awash in gratitude as well as feeling lucky that George is a good provider and a good saver.  

In between the intensity of the heat and stress the afternoon brought us today, I had the pleasure of corresponding with my good friend (and the editor of National Fisherman) Jerry Fraser. We spoke via e-mail about the impact that the price of marine diesel is having on most everyone on the industry. 

“Well, hang in there,” he wrote. “Everything is a cycle.”

I’m hanging in. We aren’t most human beings. We’re a fishing family, and we’ll last a minute.


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