“Do you get seasick? It’s going to be a rough ride,” Les Maxwell and the boys of the Area A crab vessel Delta Harvester ask as soon as I get settled onto the boat.
I say ‘boys’ because they’re young and instantly remind me of my younger brother, and brothers they became. But really these ‘boys’ are tough guys, lugging, hauling, and stacking heavy commercial traps from the depths of the Hecate Strait to the deck of the vessel, baiting them, then sending them back down to the ocean floor.
I’ll admit I was nervous, what with all of the unknowns: should I take Gravol? Would I get along with the guys or would I be shunned since I wasn’t part of the crew? Would I get in their way while I worked? So many thoughts, but all were gone within half an hour of leaving the dock as the crew thought that I would be good luck on the trip because I was a female!
The ‘calm before the storm’ would be an accurate description of the beginning of the trip. We headed across the Hecate Strait in search of our first trap in nothing but overcast skies and relatively still air. It was quiet at this point except for the slow squeak of the boom lazily swaying back and forth with the swell and the low rumble of the engine – like I said, quiet. It wouldn’t last…
There was one other feeling at this point of the trip: the anticipation – it sat heavy among the guys. At first I thought the boys were quiet and all in their heads was because I was on board, but I soon realized that they were getting themselves ‘in the zone’ for a crab fishing trip, a lot like myself before a basketball game. A little bit of extra focus right before you start so you can be sure you know your role and that you will produce results.
The trip really began when the first trap was pulled and the weather picked up. The answers to my earlier questions came flooding in. I knew exactly how fast the guys worked and whether I was going to get seasick. I figured out their movements so I wasn’t in their way or in range of the trap hook, knowing this greatly decreased my chances of getting knocked out. There were many moving pieces, slippery decks, and loud music on the Delta Harvester. Quiet time was over.
The Dungeness crab came up feisty in the traps. A missing claw here, a missing legs there, some bright orange and purple males, and some older looking females – it was quite the variety. My job consisted of picking the crab out of the tote, identifying the males and females, squeezing what is essentially their armpit to determine how old their shells were, looking for signs of injury, and measuring their width. I would say it’s a bit of an adrenaline rush as the boat rocks and the claws pinch, and a bit of a balancing act.
For 6 days these guys worked. Long hours, stacking and baiting traps, eating big and fast meals, and listening to loud music of all genres. These boys love what they do, they’re eager, full of energy, and ready for that big trap to be landed. I loved being a part of it.
Brenna Boyle is an Analyst (and occasional fisheries Observer) with our Marine Monitoring Initiative at our Prince Rupert office. She joined the Delta Harvester June 5-11, 2015.
Ecotrust Canada provides both electronic and biological monitoring for the Area A Dungeness crab fleet in northern British Columbia. Electronic monitoring systems with video cameras are used in this area to monitor compliance with fishing regulations year-round. To supplement the electronic monitoring, a Designated Fisheries Observer is sent out 4 times a year on a commercial crab vessel to sample their catch and collect biological data that helps us understand the state of the crab population in Hecate Strait.