Finally we made our first set today. I say finally for my own sake, as I had never seen it done before. It was an interesting all day process. Yesterday we set two radio beacons afloat on different “payow” (still not convinced they aren’t saying payout considering today’s catch) and the Captain picked one to drift near last night. This morning they released the boats, and started to set the purse seining net around the “payow”. It was probably 0430 when I made it up onto the deck, the sun was still down, all the lights on the boat were off, everywhere the crew moved under the dim light from flashlights, working the net which was unspooling off of the massive stack it had once been at the back of the boat.
In the distance, two small lights could be seen, it was one of our net tending boats, and it had two massive flood lights pointed straight down into the water, a visual illusion for the tuna, tricking them to surface right in the middle of the net. Hardly seems fair in my opinion, if we have to trick them up. But I suppose it is no different then a trapper setting a snare. Except this snare was about to engulf 200 tons of tuna, worth almost $200,000. That’s using rough math of course.
The next 12 hours was a long argues process of closing the net from the bottom first, and then bringing the floating ring of yellow bobbers back onto the boat. The crew scurried as the winch cranked the net back in to stack it neatly back where it had been lying only a few hours before. Occasionally a fish, caught in the net would be lifted out of the water and the crew would shake it loose. Today I saw a lot of fish, mostly tuna, big eye and yellow fin, and one other type I can’t recall the name of. I also saw two shark, one barracuda, and an assortment of small tropical saltwater fish, the crew simply tossed back into the ocean beyond the reach of the net. We also had about a half dozen, what I’m guessing were, porpoise visit the net, bobbing along side the boat and eating the tattered remains of fish that had been caught in the net trying to escape. They spent about an hour with us – feeding.
The crew use an interesting two crane system of pulling the net up from the bottom, shrinking the size of the “purse” to a more manageable volume. They wrap a rope around the net and hook it to one crane which lifts it high above the deck, and then they wrap another rope around the newly pulled part of the net and hook it to the second crane. The first crane releases its portion of net, and the second crane cranks its up. The process repeats for about 300 feet worth of net depth. However, we had an interesting occurrence today. About halfway through bringing the net up one of the crane cables began to groan, and the crew were very aware of that not being a normal sound. Fortunately everyone was able to move out of the way on the fish deck before the cable snapped and the net and links came crashing down. The only cost, aside from the cable, was about 2 hours of net pulling work, they had to start over on using a third cable arm to fill in.
The rest of the catch process went fairly well until the end, the captain had scooped about 200 tons of tuna out of the sea and the men below were busy sorting them into freezing tanks when a second cable broke – at this point there was no backup, so the captain let the rest of the net go. Sending what our observer estimates were probably another 100 tons of tuna back into the ocean. Viva la free tuna!
The big winner today however was the lunch crowd. The cook scooped up a freshly caught big eye tuna and cleaned it in no time flat. For lunch, the freshest sashimi tuna you’ve ever had. One hell of a reward for all the hard work today – I mean, not on my end or anything, the flight crew doesn’t work the nets, but all the same it tasted delicious. I was parched and famished from watching all the hard work going on below on the fish deck. Would have paired well with an ice cold beer, but during the duty day – no drinking. Alas.
Tomorrow I get the feeling we are going to do the same routine over again, which means more movies for me, and fresh sashimi at the end of the day. We are steaming toward the second radio buoy that we left out yesterday to do sonar checks on the school there, and possibly start our drift. The captain didn’t permit us to fly today during the catch operation, which I kind of understand. The deck was probably keeled off to port by 20º or so as they winched the net in. I’m barely comfortable landing on this tub when it is semi-level and bobbing against the ocean and moving 12 knots. I’m not sure how I feel about landing on it when it’s stationary, bobbing against the ocean, and laying on its side. That will come with time.
Now that we are back underway, here in about 30 or 40 minutes I’m going to head back up to the bridge and ask the captain if we can do some training flights. Why wait? Well he just lost two cables and 100 tons of tuna, so I’m going let him come down for a minute. Also – my laundry is going to be done drying in 20 minutes so it works out.