Alaska Floating Processing Jobs
The 25-plus U.S.-based floating processors now in operation in Alaska waters offer employment to about 5,000 people on both a year-round and a seasonal basis. Floating processor companies are usually based in and hire out of Seattle, although some companies hire replacement workers out of Anchorage. A company usually will provide round-trip airfare from Seattle to the work site.
If a worker quits before completing his or her contract, the flight back to mainland Alaska is free, but return airfare to the Lower 48 is usually not covered by the employer.
Shifts on floating processors generally run 16 hours with base pay ranging from minimum wage ($9.75/hour as of January 1, 2016) to $14.00 per hour depending on the job and previous experience. After the first eight hours of work each day, employees receive time-and-a-half pay. Earning $900 – $1,100 a week is not uncommon, and since there are very few opportunities to spend money while bobbing in a cove off the Pribilof Islands, almost everything earned appears on the final paycheck.
Like factory trawlers, floaters offer all kinds of employment opportunities for people with little or no experience. Positions include quality controller, production line manager, production line worker (“slimer”), and cook’s helper. With the exception of tender boat deckhand positions, the jobs listed below can be found on factory trawlers, too. More detailed descriptions are offered in the factory trawler section.
Tender Boat Deckhand
During fishing season, it is often impractical for fishing boats to take their fish to a floating or onshore processor, because it requires leaving the fishing grounds. This problem has been solved by tender boats. Usually between 50 and 130 feet long, tenders steam back and forth between the fishing grounds and the processors, buying fish from boats and carrying it to their mother ship. While in transit, fish are stowed in either large bins of ice or below deck in holds full of slushy sea water. Tender boats may also supply smaller boats with food, fuel, and supplies.
Typically four people (the skipper, an engineer, a cook, and a deckhand) are aboard each tender. Most of the time is spent zipping between boats, so there are relatively few hours of real work. Pay is either on a daily basis ($75 – 150 per day) or based on a percentage of the total number of fish handled.
Because tenders service many different boats and also work with processors, these jobs offer good opportunities to see a cross-section of the industry. Tender jobs are both lucrative and relatively easy, making the positions highly sought after. Nevertheless, if you contact the processor fleet early in the season, you may be able to secure one of these positions.
Production Line Foreman
Production line foremen oversee and ensure the smooth operation of the product processing (slime) line.
Qualified applicants usually are experienced slimers or have managed a production line floor. The line foreman organizes and motivates the slimers and works with on-board engineers to ensure that all the production machinery is operating smoothly. The foreman also communicates with the quality controller for a high-quality end product.
The production line foreman’s job is extremely important, and they are usually paid about $6,000 a month.
Some slime lines have designated quality controllers. They ensure that the end product meets uniform standards. Becoming a quality controller requires some quick training, but it is an easily learned, relatively non-strenuous job. These positions don’t require any licensing or educational background, but quality control experience in the food industry is helpful.
Quality controllers can earn up to $6,000 a month during a good season.
Most anyone can handle the jobs of processors, slimers, roe-sorters, and freezer crew. They are similar to slimer jobs at most shoreside plants. Most inexperienced workers start in these positions.
Two slightly more glamorous versions of sliming involve working as roe sorters, sorting and packaging egg sacs (called sujiko and considered a delicacy in Japan) or as freezer crew, loading boxes of freshly cleaned fish into the ship’s freezer. The pay for slimers, roe-sorters, and freezer crew is usually between $3,000 and $5,000 a month. There is really no place to spend your money, so you’ll go home with a full paycheck.
A cook aboard a floating processor usually has between one and three helpers to chop vegetables, mix ingredients, wash dishes, and so forth. The cook’s helper helps the cook plan meals, keeps a record of stock levels, and purchases supplies when ashore. Experience with institutional food service is helpful.
A cook’s helper gets the same pay as a slimer (approximately $3,000 a month).