Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Final post. Scroll down to see earlier posts

Well, we all made it back to our homes without any further weather issues. (Sorry this final posting is coming so late). Even though it was shortened by one day (due to weather), Kurt and I felt the trip was a great success. Our primary objectives were to understand the risks involved in the crab fishery and to gather some anecdotal evidence on the how captains have changed there behavior since the fishery changed from a "Total Allowable Catch" (TAC) to a quota system in 2005. As far as risk is concerned, vessel instability seems to be the greatest concern of NIOSH, the USCG, and the crab boat captains. The crab pots are heavy and, when loaded on a vessel with an empty hold, cause the boat to be top-heavy. This can be made worse in the winter when the pots may fill with snow. Ocean spray freezing on the vessel can also create instability (see photo of spray frozen to gear), so crew spend a fair amount of time at sea breaking up and removing the frozen spray with bats and sledge hammers. Once a boat is top-heavy it doesn't take much to tip it. Once you hit the Bering Sea waters in February it doesn't take long to find yourself in Davy Jones' Locker. (In fact, your only hope is to grab and put on a "survival suit" before you hit the water.) Yo-ho-ho...

The second greatest risk concern seems to be fatigue. Under a TAC there are incentives to fish without rest, as the vessels "race for fish." One captain noted that under the quota system he might be inclined to rest the crew for 4 hours. Another captain noted that their quota of fish will always be there, so taking one's time fishing was feasible under the quota system. These points resonated with me (us).

That's all for now. We are hoping to get additional NSF funding to conduct crew surveys in Dutch Harbor in October 2009. Looking forward to visiting Dutch when the weather is a bit more agreeable. Cheers.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

2/17/08, Kurt in Anchorage

Today was a beautiful day in Dutch Harbor, the best day since we arrived, and we were able to get out of Dutch Harbor and begin our long trips home. I am currently waiting for Bill's plane to arrive at the PenAir terminal in Anchorage. My trip will take around 24 hours of travel time and lay-overs before I make it home to Rhode Island. We went to the Sports Bar last night and played pool for a few hours and had a great time. It is a pretty rambunctious place with a lot of local flavor as many of the fishermen and processor employees frequent the bar. We met a young crab fisherman who was excited to be heading home because his boat had just finished off-loading the last of their snow crab for the year. He also spoke very highly of the USCG and referred to them as their “angels from above” helping to keep them safe. We are keeping our fingers crossed that all of our travels go well and Bill and I make it home as scheduled, but we are also already thinking about our next trip back to Dutch Harbor. Hopefully, we will return in October prior to the King Crab season to talk with more fishermen. Kurt.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2/16/08, 5:40pm, Dutch Harbor

Had to post a photo of a bald eagle. These things are EVERYWHERE! With all the fish parts floating around here, they are reduced to scavengers. (Can you blame them?) The locals are unimpressed (can you blame them?), but they (the eagles) bring a patriotic tear to the unaccustomed eye...

2/16/08, 4:30pm, Dutch Harbor

Good day, but a long one. First, we stopped at a processor (Unisea) and saw crab and cod being processed for shipping. The amazing thing about these processors is that not a single part of the fish is wasted. (They even save the fish oil and use it as fuel.) We then boarded a 200 ft long liner. Also spent some time in an Aleutian Island museum. The highlight of the day was boarding the Bering Star crab boat (which has been on the Deadliest Catch) and chatting with the captain about crab rationalization. Great stuff. Plus the weather was finally agreeable. Hats off to Charlie for making this all possible for us. Time for an adult beverage. More later.

2/16/08, 7:00am, Dutch Harbor

This morning we will be visiting a crab processor. If everything works out, there should be a crab boat unloading catch there, and our hope is to board the vessel. At this hour there is no sunlight, but looking out my hotel window, the weather appears to be fairly clear. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be good enough to get off the island. I will have another entry this afternoon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

2/15/08, 4:00pm, Dutch Harbor

We had a good morning. One word can describe the weather: snow (and lots of it). Visibility is poor and we suspect that no planes are getting in today. In fact, we are damn lucky to have gotten in ourselves. This morning our USCG guide, Charlie, got us onto a 240 foot pollock processor boat, the Starbound. Thanks Charlie! We were able to talk to the captain, who was very informative and who gave us his thoughts on the effects of fishery policy on vessel behavior. This is crucial information for our research. We also ate lunch on the boat (pretty good food) and were given a complete tour of the vessel from the helm to the engine spaces. We are still hoping to tour a crab boat. We are also hoping for better weather (for a variety of reasons, but mostly so that we can get off the island on Sunday).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

2/14/08, 9:30pm Dutch Harbor

What an ordeal! We finally made it to Dutch at approximately 4:00pm. Had to circle the island for 40 minutes before we were able to land. Dutch has one of the shortest runways in Alaska, so visibility has to be very good to touch down. Hence the 40 minutes circling. When you hit the ground they really have to slam on the brakes. On the way to the hotel we saw two bald eagles perched on a telephone wire. Apparently they are very common here, but seeing them made the 50 hour travel time worth it. Today is foggy and overcast so the photo ops are not so good. I will try and get some good pics tomorrow.

2/14/08, 1:45pm Cold Bay

We stopped once again for fuel. This time in Cold Bay which is on the western tip of the peninsula. Really cold here. We are not leaving the plane, just waiting for fuel (about 25 minutes). Apparently Dutch is now 45 minutes away. The photo is a view from 10,000 feet. (That is a mountain poking through the clouds.)

2/14/08, 10:40am, King Salmon

We finally got off the ground for Dutch, and have now landed in King Salmon for fuel (see photo). I heard that planes often circle Dutch airport to wait for a chance to slip in between squalls. Hopefully this will not be the case for us. King Salmon is at the eastern end of the Alaska peninsula. The temperature here is 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Runway is fairly icy. It always amazes me how planes can land at such high speeds on slick runways. However, I will leave those musings to the physicists. Tiny little airport, interesting and friendly group of people heading to Dutch. Ethnically diverse. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians. I can hear Scandinavian, Russian, Spanish accents. All the fishermen are anxious to get to Dutch. Anxious to get on the water and make a living.

2/14/08, 7:15am, Anchorage

Happy Valentine's Day. We are sitting in the Anchorage airport waiting for the weather to clear in Dutch so we can finally get out there and get some work done. Same weather problems persist in Dutch but not as severe, so we remain hopeful. None of the fishermen are wearing red for Valentine's Day. I wore red. Met a man heading to Dutch who specialized in net repair at the docks. He used to fish until his vessel sunk a few years ago. Hasn't got the stomach for it now. Said that even thinking about sinking made him seasick.

The team is getting a little punchy doing all this waiting. Discussions on the size of Snickers bars have been the highlight of the morning.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

2/13/08, 6:40pm, Anchorage

One final note for the day. Just to give you a sense of how remote Dutch harbor is, there is NO airport security for these flights. No X-ray, no metal detectors, nothing. Just an ID check for a 3 hours flight on a twin engine prop-job. 4 a.m. reveille tomorrow. Pray for good weather. (Oh yes, we heard through the grapevine that there is a fishing vessel sitting off the coast of Dutch waiting for the weather to break so it can come in. Apparently there are very rough seas between them and the port, so they are stuck. I don't really understand the physics, but it sounds feasible.)

2/13/08, 2:00pm, Anchorage

Yes, indeed, the temperature in Anchorage is the same as my home town of Syracuse NY: 24 degrees. Turns out that my flight to Dutch was cancelled (weather), and I will be staying in Anchorage for the night. In fact the whole team is stuck here. The team consists of Prof. Kurt Schnier (University of Rhode Island), Dr. Jennifer Lincoln (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), and myself. Jennifer is a local epidemiologist who studies fishery fatalities and injuries. She knows the lay of the land and will be introducing us to a civilian member of the U.S. Coast guard (Charlie), who knows all the captains and will be getting us access to vessels in port. Apparently everybody in Dutch knows and loves this guy, so we should be “in” with the captains and crews.

2/13/08, 10:00am, Seattle

Called Kurt from Seattle.  He has been in Anchorage since last night, and he reports that most flights to Dutch Harbor have been cancelled due to weather. Apparently the Aleutian Islands are typically on the cusp of two weather systems.  I am not exactly sure what this means, but it has something to do with the inland (Alaska) weather colliding with the weather over the Bering Sea.  This causes the weather at Dutch Harbor to be fairly unstable. Today there are reports of squalls and high winds.  He was not certain, but Kurt seemed to think that the flights from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor were prop-jobs (and not regional jets), which would make the flying more treacherous.  We are excited to get to work in Dutch Harbor and are hoping that we will not be delayed more than a few hours.  Keep your fingers crossed.

2/13/08, 6:45am, Oakland

Just leaving Oakland for Seattle, then on to Anchorage, and finally Dutch Harbor.  My cold seems to be more a factor than I had hoped, Since the landing last night I have had limited hearing in my left ear.  Oh well, if Lewis and Clark could battle dysentery, I can handle a little ear discomfort for a few days.  Learned something about airport security check-in today.  Contact lens solution is considered a medicine and doesn’t not have to fit into the one-quart, zip-lock bag that you must display at airport security. This is true of any liquid medicine.  You have to have it out of your bag, but it does not have to fit in the one-quart bag.

The captain says they’re are 80 mph headwinds on the way up to Seattle.  Now, I am no aeronautics, meteorology, climatology, scientology kind-of-guy, but that seems like pretty fast wind. I’m sure this old MD-80 will slice through it like a hot knife through butter. By the way, the airplane is very old and virtually empty.  Exit rows all the way up to Dutch Harbor. The chop just started, and the “fasten seatbelts” sign is now illuminated; we’re in for a bumpy ride.

2/12/08, 11:30pm Oakland

Ventured over the bay bridge on the BART (subway) to grab dinner with an old chum, Arturo Gonzalez. Went to my favorite Irish pub in the mostly-Latino Mission district of SF. Had whiskey and a burger at Napper Tandy.  Art paid.  I’ll be staying with Art for a few days next week after I leave Alaska.  Last fall he was kind enough to let me stay with him for two months while I was visiting Cal Berkeley. So “props” to Art for his generosity and  hospitality.

On the way back to the hotel a kid on the BART was carrying an old IBM Selectric typewriter. (Rumor on the train was that he found it on the street.)  You should have seen the buzz that this old relic created on that train.  People were touching it, laughing, and reminiscing about the last time they had seen or used one. This was particularly meaningful in the hi-tech bay area, where EVERYONE has an i-pod, cell phone and laptop on their person at all times (guilty) and where the population is relatively young. I’ll bet the kid who found it had never even seen one before.  One of the young folks on the BART thought it was “an old IBM PC.”  Anyway, the scene reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which the futuristic humans are mesmerized by the “Savage” who finds himself in their midst. Fun stuff.

2/12/08, 6:15pm Over Iowa

I've been fortunate as far as JetBlue seating is concerned.  On the short leg from Syracuse to NYC, I had an aisle seat with no one in the middle seat.  On the long leg (NYC to Oakland) I managed to finagle an exit row, but it was the window seat (the aisle is my preference). Upon boarding, I tried to buy the exit row aisle seat from the woman seated there. Offered her as much as $60 to switch with me.  She refused, but things worked out fine as there was (once again) no one in the middle seat.  I have my legs stretched into the middle seat area as I  type this.  These are important issues to a 6-foot plus person.

Hope I am dressed appropriately for the Aleutian Islands.  Despite the cold I got this weekend, I am feeling pretty good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2/11/08. Leaving Syracuse

Hello, this is Bill Horrace and I have just left Syracuse NY and am off to San Francisco California. Tomorrow morning, I begin my NSF funded Alaskan adventure to study Bering Sea Crab Fisheries. Stay tuned for news, weather, photos and my personal experiences. Stay warm.