Alaska Tender Boat Employment – Life on a Tender

Steven Weakley of Portland, Oregon, worked on a fish tender for a summer. He was able to make the jump from processing plant to boat by dock stomping.

I had some friends who knew people at a processing plant in Valdez who said I could get a job there easily, so I decided to head up there for the summer without getting a job first.

The second day there I walked into this company and got the job. I think they would have hired just about anybody, since they really needed workers. I worked at the plant to earn some extra money but what I really wanted to do was work on a boat.

The first week I just tried to take it all in, and the second week I started looking around for fishing work. I started hanging out on the docks in my spare time, and by my second week I had found a job as a deckhand on a tender. There weren’t tons of jobs available on boats in Valdez, but I met several guys who did the same thing and found fishing jobs. Most jobs were with seiners, who went out on fishing trips for three or four days at a time.

Our boat was a converted crabber that the captain had turned into a tender. We basically carried fish from the salmon hatcheries and took them back to Whittier. I lived right on the boat, which had room for six. There were only five of us: the captain, mechanic, deckhand, seafood supervisor (who actually worked for the seafood company and was only on the boat part-time), and myself.

After the first few days the cook quit, so I took over the cooking duties. Cooking for five hungry guys was always in the back of my mind while I was doing my deckhand work. Usually I would get up around eight or so and make breakfast for everyone. Then we’d do repairs and maintenance (and occasionally big repairs) before we headed out for the point. We’d get to the point and the captain would use his radio and phone to find out who had fish to load. We would go to that location, collect the fish, and make the trip back to Whittier where the cannery would suck out all the fish from our hold. We cleaned the hold and helped with the transport.

Sometimes we would work 24 hours a day and sometimes we’d work only two hours a day. We had to deliver the fish from the point to the dock as quickly as possible to preserve freshness, so we just worked until the job was done.

This position was a great opportunity because it paid a lot better than the canneries and I got a place to stay for free. I saved a lot of money and still had a lot when I got home. They just paid me by the day, the same rate whether I worked three hours or 24 hours, but it worked out to a lot more money than I was making in the cannery.

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