Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Petersburg Fisherman Updates Wood Boat in Wrangell

Near one of the immense boat sheds in the Wrangell Marine Service Center a pile of planks lay quiet, patient, even boring in their rectangular form. To a shipwright, or a simple lover of potential, however, those planks hold life on the ocean within them. This lumber is being put to work with little delay; spring and the fishing season are fast approaching!

From inside the shed the sounds of drills and mallets ring out as wood is fitted and fastened, transforming straight lines and right angles into living curves befitting a creature of the sea. The fishing vessel Siren’s starboard hull is receiving new frames and planks.

Wooden fishing boats are rarely made in today’s world of fiberglass and metal boats. In 1919, however, wood was the best available material, and master craftsmen built many boats for the Alaska fishing fleet. The ones that received good care and good luck are still at work today, like the F/V Siren. Yes! She is three years short of her century mark, and the current work is the last section that gives her a new hull.

Mike File of Petersburg fastens a new plank to F/V Siren's hull.

 Siren’s owner, Mike File of Petersburg, says, “Just because it is old or used doesn’t mean that it is broken. When you put new wood on a wood boat then what you’ve replaced is brand new again.”

Mike started his Alaskan fishing career when he was eight years old.  His father showed him the lifestyle, helped Mike to build a work ethic, and cautioned him that, “If you fish for a living you’re going to be ruined for any 8 to 5 job.”

Mike smiles and exclaims, “He was right!” then shakes his head and goes on, “I like the ability to work for myself, to make my own decisions. It’s like a farm boy on the farm. It’s a good place to grow up, learn responsibility, and when the going gets tough you have to put your head down and go to work.”

Mike works the Siren in the seine, longline, and troll fisheries.  He has owned the boat for twenty-six years, and for him the “off season” maintenance work is as much a part of a fishing career as pulling fish from the sea is. Keeping the boat shipshape helps to keep him and his crew alive.

“So many things can go wrong so fast it’s insane,” he says, “What I’ve done in the last ten years is I’ve slowly rebuilt the boat – replacing frames, planking, decking - because the boat does everything I need it to do. It is a very forgiving boat, and comfortable on the ocean.”

 The Siren was originally sixty-five feet long, but it was shortened to fifty-eight feet in the 1970’s. The length was taken out of the bow, preserving the large workspace on the back deck. The previous owner of the Siren put the aluminum wheelhouse on. Mike File continues to update the boat, including putting in new machinery and electronics.

Luckily Mike enjoys working on his own boat. He clamps another plank of African sapele (suh-PEEL-ey) wood onto the oak frames, and then starts to drill holes and countersink large screws.

Mike says, “It’s in between a soft wood and a hard wood. It bends well, it’s nice to work with, it likes paint –that’s a must! - and it’s really bug resistant.”

The main “bugs” that are a problem for wood boats in Alaska are shipworms (Teredo navalis). They are actually a saltwater clam species that bore into wood. While ‘teredos’ do break down wood debris in the ocean, they can also quickly destroy a boat built with the wrong type of wood.

There are many more steps to be completed before the first coat of paint is applied. Maintaining a wood boat is a labor of love….and life. After a month of work there is about a week left to go on this project.

Mike sums it up, “If a boat is in good condition it will take rougher water than you can take, and if a boat has good general maintenance then it will last longer than you will.”

A Peek at Commercial Dungeness Crabbing

Fishermen in Southeast Alaska rarely make their living on one fishery. Over the years most fishermen (a title that includes women) have bought into multiple fisheries in order to string together a successful season.

There are quotas, limits, openers, closures, areas, boundaries, gear restrictions, and a crazy labyrinth of regulations. All of that is in the interest of maintaining harvests of Alaskan seafood in perpetuity.

A fisherman might salmon fish in summer, Dungeness crab in the fall, and shrimp in winter, leaving a few spring months to do maintenance on the boat and gear.

Cindy telling me to hurry up and take the picture before she drifts into the dock.

The following is a tiny part of how Dungeness crab get from the ocean to your grocery store.

We'll start with Cindy. A few years ago crabbing was a supplement to longlining and tendering for her. She crabbed in her small boat.

Her big boat is for longlining and salmon tendering.

Here's a little of one sunny day when she checked her pots.

Dungeness crab pot coming up with lots of kelp and some crab. Cindy coils the line carefully so that the pot will reset without tangles.

Pulling crab out of the pot before re-baiting it and resetting it. The bait that she chopped up is on the right side of the table.

A nice Dungeness crab that measures well above legal size.

Putting crab into a tote to be winched up to the seafood processor.

There is a scale showing the weight of the product.

Earlier this year the boats to the right were getting geared up for Dungeness crab. Pots that have been stored in gear sheds or in yards are loaded onto trucks, put onto the boats at the harbor lift station, and secured to take out on the fishing grounds. On small boats it can take multiple trips out to crab land just to get all of the pots set.

A few days ago we were in Zimovia Strait and saw the "Quad L" checking their string of crab pots. The weather was surprisingly calm and nice for November. It was in the upper 30's (about 3*c), with light winds.

The skipper brings the boat near a buoy, and the deckhand hooks it.


The line is brought up and around the block.

The deckhand coils line as the pot is brought in.

All female crab are released. Every male crab is measured. It is released if it is too small, or is put into circulating salt water in the hold if it is legal size. The crab must be alive and in good condition when they are sold to the seafood processor.

The bait cup is refilled and a large chunk of 'hanging bait' is added to the pot.

The pot is closed and reset.

One pot done, seventy-four to go. Actually I didn't ask them how many pots they are running. There are permits for 75, 225, or 300 pots. Each pot needs to be checked every few of days.

A tip of the hat to you hard working crabbers,

Alaska Beachcomber

More about dungeness crab: Cleaning Dungeness Crab

Trollers and Gillnetters

Trollers near Port Protection in Southeast Alaska

Here's a quick postcard for you about trollers and gillnetters in Southeast Alaska.

Hand troller bringing a fish in Sumner Strait near Port Protection.

An array of plugs and hoochies for trolling.

The "Astri" making a turn near Wrangell.

A bowpicker gillnetter near Wrangell Island. 

The gillnetter "Nordic Spirit" bringing in a nice silver salmon in Sumner Strait.

Picking fish

Heading in for the night.

Safe travels and good fishing to all, 

Alaska Beachcomber