A Fish Story (Part 2) The Akebono Maru

A Fish Story (Part 2) The Akebono Maru

Ucluelet : Canada | May 23, 2011 at 6:33 PM PDT
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Hake Fishery

Some 36 hours later the Tanu lay broadside across from the Akebono Maru some 25 miles west of Ucluelet, British Columbia. It was a scud grey day with a six foot sea when I was deposited unceremoniously onto the seat of a small zodiac. My packsack followed with a dull, green thump. As we approached the large, Japanese factory ship I tried to remember what the boatswain on the TANU had told me..."grab the ladder on the upswell"..he said..."and climb like hell!"

The 6 foot swells began to seem gargantuan as we approached the wood and rope ladder dangling down the sides of the ship. I hefted my 60+ lb pack onto my back and waited for the right opportunity. My timing was NOT impeccible and I ended up soaked to my knees with a rising swell. The zodiac took off while I banged and clattered against the hull.

I did manage to drag myself aboard, however, and spent the next 10 minutes bowing and muttering "Hai" to all and sundry onboard who came to meet the new goofy "white demon". Besides "Hai" and "Arigato" the sum total of my working Japanese was "So Desu Ka" and "Nani Desu Ka"...I'm sure they thought I was a complete idiot..as did I!

A very sullen and officious Captain and First Mate met me and guided me to my cabin berth. I spent the greater part of my first 24 hours bowing and muttering `Hai`to everyone. My back got sore and a bit stooped after a while.

There were 5 Japanese factory ships fishing the west coast of British Columbia for hake. Unlike the Polish or the Russians, the Japanese fished Independantly in a Special Zone. The Poles, Russians and Greeks would allow Canadian boats to catch for them..and then deliver the fish to them via either a cod-end swap or (like the Greeks) be pumped aboard via a BC Packers barge in Barclay Sound. The problem with fishing independantly came with worries of the country taking too much Incidental Catch..that is..they could walk away with a lot of Salmon, Halibut or Rockfish we really didnèt want then to take. Hake was a junk fish to us...having been spoiled by having so much better fish to eat for almost a century. You had to process Hake real fast with ready blast freezers etc to make the catch worthwhile. We Canadians had not quite caught onto this yet..BUT..were determined to make a buck out of the huge masses of migratory fish sitting offshore.

Hence..MY job! Keep track of what they are catching and blow the whistle when they got too much of what we wish they wouldnèt take! Pretty simple.

This is a pretty easy task for someone onboard a ship that has the fish literally delivered to it..like the Russians and Poles. With the Japanese, however, they fished quite strategically with a fleet...and they could only be told to cease fishing when the incidental catch (anything but hake!) was collectively over 20%. To do this you needed co-ordination between observers like myself on the other ships.

Japanese (as we all well know) love fish. I was amazed later to find out how they fill their gullets by playing with both the rules..and the numbers. And they do it with both grace and civility! Stay tuned.

Konbom wa

for now.

1 of 2
Hake Fishery
Wrong End of a Cod End!
Andy Mathisen is based in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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