Alaska Purse Seiner - Alan SorumIdentifying Alaska commercial fishing boats is a great pastime. Fishing vessels evolve to meet unique regional demands and fisheries. Commercial fishing is vital to the foundation of Alaska’s economy and industry history is closely tied to the state.

Fishing boats must not only be safe and economical, but need to be designed to work the gear required of a fishery.

Types of Alaska Commercial Fishing Boats

A fishery is best described as the effort directed at harvesting a selected species of fish or seafood. Methods used to catch salmon aren’t the same as those for crab or halibut. Many times a fishing vessel can be identified first by the kind of fishing gear it carries.

Crabber – These are the vessels that pursue crab. Boat size varies with the crab species being targeted. Dungeness crab fishing in Southeast Alaska can be accomplished using a smaller boat that required for pursuing King crab in the Bering Sea. Baited steel pots are used to fish for crabs.

Longliner– Named after the fishing gear they deploy, longliners target halibut and sablefish (Black cod). A longline is a weighted line that can be up to several hundred fathoms in length. An anchor is attached to one end of the line and as it is played off the boat, baited hooks tied to a leader or gangion are attached every few feet. One longline can exceed a mile in length and carry a thousand hooks. After the line has soaked or been fished in the water for a day, it is retrieved with a deck mounted winch. Fish brought onboard are cleaned and cooled before they are returned to port.

Salmon Fishing Boats

Gillnetter– These boats focus on Silver (Coho), Red (Sockeye) and Chum (Dog) salmon by using a curtain net placed in front of moving fish. The net has openings in it of fixed mesh size. The size of the mesh opening can determine the species and sex of the salmon to be targeted. The fiber of the net catchs on the fish’s gill plates, thus the label gillnetter. Gillnetters have a typical crew of one to two people.

Purse Seiner – These vessels target Pink salmon and herring stocks. Seiners in Alaska utilize a long net to encircle a school of fish. An auxiliary power skiff is used to move the end of the net around the targeted fish and bring it back to the seiner. The net used carries a series of rings at its base that has a line passed through them. Once the net surrounds a group of fish, the line at the bottom of the net is drawn up to purse or close the net. A powerful winch on deck draws the net closer to the seine boat were the fish can be brought onboard. In Alaska, purse seiners are limited to being 58 feet in length. There are four to five crewmembers on a seiner.

Troller – These are the hook and line fishermen targeting high value species of salmon like the King (Chinook) and Silver (Coho). Trollers carry four to six steel fishing lines or trolls that suspend heavy lead cannonball weights. The trolls are mounted on a spool that resembles a fishing reel. The spool can be hand or hydraulically powered. Smaller fishing leaders are attached to the larger troll line and carry a baited hook or lure. Trollers are noted for the care taken in handling their catch and the high quality of fish returned to the dock for sale. These boats will have one or two persons aboard.

Visit Alaska to see their unique vessels and learn why Alaskan wild seafood is so popular throughout the world.

Copyright – 2013 by Alan Sorum.

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