“the ocean… it’s unforgiving…
it’s something you DEEPLY have to respect.”
MORE REAL THAN “REALITY”
Back in 2005, the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch” took the world by storm.
It was a true gale-level force.
The captivating show crashed into the starboard side of American and western pop culture like a 20-ft wave, making its presence known.
It gave the average viewer a look below the deck of the life of commercial crab fishing crews. It revealed what life on the Bering Sea looks and feels like for these hearty souls.
But watching a heavily edited portrayal of a fishing boat on a TV screen from the warmth of your favorite spot on the couch is a far cry from the lived experience of physically being aboard one of these vessels, crafted to survive the extreme.
If you’re crewing a crab fishing vessel in the Bering Sea in the middle of Winter, you are subjected to subfreezing temperatures, blistering winds, jostling and crashing waves, and a constant feeling that you’ve somehow personally offended Njord, Aegir, Poseidon, or some other type of divine being who is unleashing their wet hand of wrath on you, on a regular basis.
So it is not for the faint of heart.
Or the faint of stomach.
Retrieving crab from the depths is no easy task, and it takes a certain type of rugged, steadfast, hearty soul to do this work.
The crew of the F/V Silver Spray, led by Captain Bill Prout, fits that description perfectly.
Captain Prout would rather focus on the tasks at hand than smile for the reality TV cameras.
The crew has enough on their plate to think about.
18-hour work days filled with rigorous manual labor?
Weeks or months at sea, away from the comforts of normal life?
Working all day and night in some of the world’s most adverse weather conditions?
Possibility of losing your life due to the volatility of the sea or other variables?
All part of the package.
And as absolutely real as it gets.
THE BERING SEA: A DEEPER LOOK
Home to over 400 fish species, over 30 seabird species, and hundreds of other mammal species and creatures, the Bering Sea is one of the world’s most fascinating and thriving ecosystems.
The source of approximately $1.6 Billion worth of global commercial fishing enterprise, the Bering Sea is also considered one of the globe’s most important epicenters for several categories of commercial fishing.
The region is regulated by regional authorities who set forth guidelines for sustainable fishing methods in order to protect the normal ebbs and flows of nature. Respect is given and integrated into the commercial fishing of this region so that the annual rhythms can be maintained and so that the region will continue to flourish with its wild inhabitants.
Due to its unrelenting weather, its vast diversity of wildlife below and above the water, and its adrenaline-filled, sea-faring human presence, the region makes for quite the intense and vivid scene, both in real life and on the screen.
“Opilio” (also known as Chionoecetes opilio) is one of the major products of the Bering Sea…
You may know it more commonly as the beloved “snow crab.”
Captain Prout has 40+ years of crab fishing experience, and the Silver Spray has been making crab pot runs for 25 years.
The vessel can hold up to 220,000 pounds of crab at max capacity, before it has to drop the load at the docks to be processed.
Then, it’s back out into the great big blue, to fill ‘er up again.
WATCH: Click play, for a vivid look inside the work happening on a commercial crab fishing vessel in the Bering Sea.
Let’s scan some quick numbers…
Up to 220,000 lbs. of crab on each run.
Several weeks’ or multiple months’ worth of runs each season.
Seasonal quotas often hover around 30,000,000 lbs. of snow crab.
Multiplied over 40 years’ worth of quotas…
Captain Bill has seen a lot of crab.
Turnover in this industry can be decently high, but there are also “lifers”…
It usually it goes one direction or the other… someone may have a quick “in and out” experience with this line of work, or in the case of Prout and his crew, it can be so interwoven into the fabric of your life that it is hard to tell where the fishing ends and where “regular life” begins.
***EXPLORE SOME OF THE HELLY HANSEN WORKWEAR PIECES TRUSTED BY THE SILVER SPRAY***
*Please note: HH Workwear is not available in all countries.
PREPARE FOR WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL
The weather is always a factor, and it is something that is constantly monitored by the captain and crew.
At night, when the temperatures regularly drop below freezing, the ocean spray can saturate the decks, causing everything to freeze over and gain the appearance of a too-heavily-frosted donut.
It’s vital that the crew monitor the weight of the boat, to keep it balanced and afloat.
Ice weighs a lot, so most nights require a round or two of ice-breaking, and out come the hammers.
Such is the life onboard.
Adapt and do what needs to be done.
Being able to depend on reliable and functional tools, equipment, and gear is essential to not only the quality of the work, but to the very survival of the crew.
One of those needs is to have quality, trustworthy, and durable waterproof apparel.
It can eliminate a whole load of potential stressors, both physical and mental.
Staying warm and dry is vital.
When the crew needs to be completely focused on the rigorous, physically-demanding task at hand, for 12-18 hours straight, the last thing they need is to be miserable or sick because of failing apparel and faulty waterproof gear.
These crews need gear that is as tough as them.
Gear that will withstand the beating.
Gear that can stare down the sea.
All Images by Andy Cochrane. Video by Adam Wells.