Fishing for Ghosts on the Golden Pacific
Published in the Turnagain Times, October 2013
“How’s a guy supposed to get laid when he gets off the boat smelling like dead, rotten fish?” Travis shouts. The night that swallows his cry is a deep true black. It’s September. The seining season is over. The sun has long been setting again. As the Golden Pacific hums through the water from Esther Island to Shotgun Cove, the men of this seiner alternately laugh disbelievingly and shake their heads, cursing their luck. It has taken an hour, and a shower for each of them, before these men could speak at all. Just days ago they ended the most lucrative salmon season ever recorded in Prince William Sound, indeed ever recorded in Alaska. But tonight they do not celebrate. Tonight they speak like the haunted veterans of a harrowing war. They have just attempted and failed at the most disgusting task any of them has encountered, and lived to tell the tale.
Earlier tonight, on the ride from Whittier to the Esther Hatchery, captain Nate was pretty unconcerned about the whole ordeal. He and his crew were hired to remove the hatchery’s barrier seine and move it to the A.F.K. Hatchery for winter storage. No big deal, he thinks, a little easy money at the end of an awesome season. Nate’s an easy-going guy. He walks around in slippers and calls his crew by nicknames even when he’s yelling. Pete made the prophetic prediction. “It’s going to be full of morts,” he says. Morts, that’s dead salmon. “One or two, sure,” says Nate. Pete’s on the quiet side, but he’s shrewd and wry. He raises his eyebrows, grins tight-lipped, and says nothing.