The Aquanator is a fishing tender (F/T), we don’t actually catch any fish we just store and move them to a dock for processing and shipping. To catch salmon commercial fishermen utilize various techniques and types of fishing vessels. The only commonality is the fact that all the boats use nets to catch salmon. There are vast array of different vessels used as tenders, let’s take a look at the types of boats used to catch the fish.
The simplest and most basic salmon fishing technique is to use a net with one end attached to the shore and the other to an anchor set offshore. These type fishermen (while on the subject of discussing fishermen I would like to interject that I’ve encountered a fair number of fisherwomen) are called Set-netters. They use small open bodied aluminum boats around 20 feet long which are powered by an outboard motor. These boats typically have two to four large “boxes” built into the middle of the boat to hold ice and their catch. There are typically crewed by two and along with a steering pedestal, a small seawater pump and maybe a cooler little else is aboard. There are no seats or toilets and while fishing they are completely exposed to the elements. Most of the Set-netters lease small portions of land along the coast upon which they build small “camps” to live in during the fishing season. Many of the Set-netters will cycle between their nets and camp not returning to ‘civilization” until the season is over. The state leases the Set-netters specific areas where they may set their nets as well as dictate when they can set them. Due to the size of the boats the Set-netters are limited to the amount of salmon that they can carry with a thousand pounds placing quite a load on the vessel. The cost (not including the fishing permit), to get up and running as a Set-netter can be anywhere from $30,000 to over $100,000.
The next level up from the Set-netters are the Gill-netters and Drift-netters. They each use a similar type boat in fact some fishermen swap back and forth during the day. These type boats vary in length from 25 to 30+ with open working decks forward and small living area cabins aft. In the center of the deck or working area is a large hydraulically powered vertically stacked roller which is utilized to “set” and “pick” their nets. Immediately behind the roller and below the rear working deck are large bins in which the salmon and ice are stored. In front of the boat and off to one side are the steering and hydraulics control station. Off the bow a secondary smaller horizontal roller with guides keeps the net organized when setting and picking. These type boats have the ability to store 3000+ pounds of salmon. The cabin area typically has a set of bunk beds in the back, small diesel or propane heater, small stove for cooking, sink, port-a-potty, table and steering area. It’s a mixed bag as to the number of crew with half the fishermen going solo and the other half doubling up. The type nets utilized are similar to those of the Set-netters with the exception being that the Gill-netters nets are anchored at one end and tied to the boat at the other with the Drift-netters not anchoring either end of the net hence drifting with the current. To prevent damaging their nets while fishing these boats are powered by one or two large engines with outdrives similar in design to those used in jet-skis which don’t have propellers. Depending on how they are outfitted the cost of these boats can run anywhere from $100,000 to just south of a million.
The grand daddy of commercial salmon fishing vessels in Alaska is the Purse Seiner. These boats vary in length from 35 to 60+ feet with the “look” of a typical fishing boat. They are multi-level vessels with complex systems such as numerous hydraulic booms, twin engines, large fish holds with sea water refrigeration capable of holding tens of thousands of pounds of fish for days at a time powered by a diesel generator. They come equipped with full kitchens (a galley on a boat) with sleeping and living areas for crews of 4+ as well as a separate skiff for setting and bringing in nets. In addition to the larger size of the vessels the Purse Seiners have the ability to “drive” their nets around using the main boat and skiff. Although size dependent these vessels may hold 100,000+ lbs. of salmon. The cost of a Seiner can run anywhere from $250,000 for a “fixer upper” to several million dollars. Let’s go fishing!