The fishing boats began streaming past us out of the port last night. At 6am today it was finally time for the commercial fishermen to get out there and catch those salmon. The bay outside Valdez is large, but it was so full of ships, there was hardly room for them all to spread out their nets and reel them in. We counted fifty last night and there were probably twice that many out today.
The process is the same whether your boat is large or small. A dinghy leads the net affixed to buoys in a large circle away from the boat. Once the circle is closed, the crew starts reeling in the net, tightening the bottom like purse strings. Because the salmon can escape by swimming under the boat, one or two crew beat the water with poles, making a booming sound to scare the fish away. Some of the nets also enclosed seals which enjoyed the concentration of fish until the circle grew small and they swam over the top and away.
It's hard for us to tell whether the fishing was good. The fish arrived onboard as the last few feet of net were reeled in. Then the whole process began again. The boats tended to be concentrated in certain spot. Probably their sonar told them more fish were concentrated there.
If the hold was full, the fishing boats would line up at a tender boat, which would such all the fish out and take it to the cannery. We could hear on the marine radio as they discussed whose turn was next. At times five boats were waiting for a pump out. The population of cannery workers has also increased the last few days. We saw lots of folks running around in hair nets during their shift change.
The sun peeked out of the clouds here and there and brightened the day and our spirits. Hopefully it will still be out when the fishing day ends at 8pm tonight. Then the fishery officials will assess what;e left and designate another day for the commercial fishermen if the fish remaining allow. Different kinds of salmon come back to spawn at different times and in different places, so many of the boats we saw today may head back to their home ports in Seward and Kodiak.