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Fishing for Dungeness Crab off the Oregon Coast: A Greenhorn's Story
Fishing Reports

by the FV Harvester for OurOregonCoast.com

harvesterBrian Reeves at the Sportsmen's Cannery & Smokehouse in Winchester decided to try crabbing on the F/V Harvester this year for the 2009-2010 Dungeness Crab Season opener.

His greenhorn remembrances are as follows:

A Crabbing Greenhorn gets an Education

Being a greenhorn the first seven or 8 days, all I did was learn the best way to complete simple tasks that the more experienced guys knew instinctively. The simplest things would make a huge difference.

If you pick up a bait jar with the wrong hand even, that extra action would slow down the operation and hurt production. You could move one foot before another and save a step. Those guys Bert and Royce kept me safe out there and trained me up good, just little things that make a huge difference in keeping the action smooth. After five or six days I began to find my place and we began to work more as a machine than individuals. The seasoned crabbers maybe don't notice how easily they do things after so many years, but bring a greenhorn on board and the difference is pretty obvious.

Dungeness crabbing really beats a person down both physically and mentally. Our sleeping quarters on the Harvester are about 2 feet wide by the length of your body on the floor. Bert and Royce had seniority and Capt Tyler has his fancy fold down bed behind the captain’s chair but being the greenhorn I got the floor.

One of the hardest parts of it mentally was that you'd just spent 30 hours out there setting traps and running gear and then a three hour steam back to Charleston. Then 3 more hours to offload everything, so you are feeling good about landing the catch and then you'd have about half an hour to clean the boat, get a shower, and then back out on the water. Normally the weather doesn't allow such a long run of continuous crabbing so this was new to everybody.

Lesson 1 - You Need The Right Gear:

Learned my lesson that you need the right gear - the right rain jacket, the right boots and the right socks. Just a regular pair of cotton socks didn't work worth a damn. The first time I got to go to England Marine after going out I felt good spending a few hundred bucks on the right gear.

I had a beanie, 4 sweatshirts, and the rain gear on and still froze. The super freeze gave us 12 days of straight crabbing and we never got to go home. We slept on the boat, ate on the boat, showered in the parking lot in Charleston. You could probably smell us all the way into Coos Bay.

One thing that was really weird about crabbing, the first day we went out and they put these gloves on me that everyone uses, and with the salt water or sweating I got 'crab claw' -- your hands feel like they're on fire and your fingers won't bend any more. They felt like they burned. After a day or two of that it just went away, but it was tough going there for a while. Over a period of catching 90,000 crabs in a matter of 10 days I think I measured and handled 50,000 of those suckers personally.

 

brian_offloading_harvester.preview

Crabbing on the F/V Harvester - the hardest work I've ever done

A week in, we just got done unloading and headed back to the crabbing grounds so we all got two hours of bad sleep and got to the grounds at 1:00 in the morning, got suited up and on deck to start running gear.. It was COLD but we got going. The next thing you know the sun comes up -- seems like when the sun first comes up it always feels the coldest. So the Sun came up and we kept running gear, and running gear and then suddenly the sun was going down and we kept going till 10:00 that night, got full and went back in for offloading and then went back out and did it again.

It was the hardest work by far that I've ever done in my life, as far as physical labor and sleep deprivation and mental awareness goes.

Why?

Question: Here you are, the relatively new owners of the Sportsmen's Cannery. What made you decide to get on that boat for this season?

Being new in the industry, I wanted to get a better conception of what it actually takes to harvest the crab that we've been selling for the past 2 years. When I buy crab at the Cannery, now I know a little about how much work and struggle it is get those suckers. And being in a job where you can make some fast money didn't hurt either. And I had the same feeling that those old boys had gold mining in the 1800's – we had crab fever!

I was so lucky to be on The Harvester with Capt Tyler. I was lucky enough to get on with a hot rod boat that has their stuff together so I could sit back and learn. He knew exactly what he was doing, knew exactly where he was going and I could rely on his experience. If he told us what to do we never had to worry about what his plan was – we knew it was good. His 34 foot boat had higher numbers than 60 to 80 foot boats. I will say that such a huge change made it tough on our family life because my wife was not used to the lifestyle of a commercial fisherman.

Women that have men who do this should respect themselves a lot. They deal with being separated for days on end with constant worry, wondering if they'll ever come back. It was tough for me to come home for a couple hours, take a shower and play with the kid for a few minutes and I could see in her eyes she wasn't doing very well. 'I didn't marry a commercial fisherman' she said, but she got through it. You can make a ton of money in five days but the strain on your relationship is a hell of a deal.

The Captain was in charge of morale. He'd listen to our bitching, make us food, and keep us going throughout the season. We weren't just a number to him and we couldn't have been pulling record loads like that without a great leader.

Conclusion:

I wouldn't trade my experience for any other boat in the harbor, even though our living conditions might have been pretty basic compared to the million dollar boats with personal chefs and sauna's - that we've heard about but never saw. Sleeping bags on the floor were good enough.

harvester_dock_2.preview

-Capt Tyler & Harvester Crew

To order Albacore tuna or Dungeness crab, shipped anywhere, or for local pick up, visit The Ocean Harvest at www.theoceanharvest.com

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