Bill Prout never expected the wheelhouse of the F/V Silver Spray to resemble his living room back at the family home in Kodiak, Alaska. In 2001, Prout and then-business partner William Jacobson bought the Silver Spray, a house-forward, steel-hulled, 116-footer out of Alabama.
A 40-year Bering Sea crab veteran, Prout started running the Silver Spray himself in 2008, fishing for red king crab, tanner crab, and snow crab in the winters, while tendering for salmon in Prince William Sound in the summers.
Gradually, three of his six kids became familiar faces on the deck, and they took to the tough life of Bering Sea crab fishing in a way they did not exactly expect.
“We all thought we were going to go off to college and find other jobs,” said 26-year-old Sterling Prout.
Now, along with his brothers Gabriel, 30, and Ashlan, 24, the younger Prouts are looking to spearhead a generational shift in Bering Sea crab. They worked for their dad for several seasons. Then last summer, when Jacobson decided to sell out, the brothers saw an opportunity.
They joined two other fellow crew members — Leo Tuiasosopo and Jacobson’s son, Bill Jr. — and bought Jacobson out.
“I’ll just go ahead and say it. We have to be the youngest guys who own a boat that fishes crab in the Bering Sea,” Gabriel said.
Suddenly, the Silver Spray was a worker-owned family affair, making it a charming anomaly in Bering Sea crab, where Gabriel explained that most boats are owned by deep pockets that lease to third-party crews.
Beyond having a share in the boat, every crew member on the Silver Spray also owns quota shares, which Gabriel said helps bring them together to work toward a common goal.
“You’re catching your own crab, generating revenue for yourself,” Gabriel said. “It’s already one of the toughest jobs around, but there’s definitely more of a pride aspect when you’re working on something that you actually own.”
And what does Bill Prout think of his kids following him into the fishery that is famous for being a deadly catch?
“I’m all for it,” Bill said from the Silver Spray’s boat phone. “Rationalization has made this fishery much safer. The weather’s bad? OK, we don’t have to go out and do this. You’re not pushed over the limit like we used to be.”
And while the elder Prout said his wife does a lot of praying back home in Kodiak when the family is on the water, she is excited for her kids.
The younger Prouts, meanwhile, have their sights set high as they look to combat the graying — and rusting — of the Bering Sea fleet. The Silver Spray was built in 1990 by Master Boat Builders, but it is one of the newer boats in Bering Sea fleet.
“A lot of these boats were built in the 1970s and ’80s. The steel is getting older, and the maintenance costs just keep going up,” Gabriel said. “Our real goal is keep increasing our quota share and build another vessel.”
HOME PORT: Kodiak, Alaska OWNERS: Bill Prout, Gabriel Prout, Ashlan Prout, Sterling Prout, Bill Jacobson Jr., Leo Tuiasosopo BUILDER: Master Boat Builders, Bayou La Batre, Ala. YEAR BUILT: 1990 FISHERIES: Bering Sea Red King, Tanner and Snow Crab / Salmon tender in Prince William Sound HULL MATERIAL: Steel LENGTH: 116 feet BEAM: 30 feet DRAFT: 12 feet TONNAGE: 130 CREW CAPACITY: 11 MAIN ENGINES: Two Cummins K-19s REDUCTION GEAR: Twin Disc MG-516 GENSETS: Two Cummins 855, one 65-kW John Deere PROPELLERS: 48-inch, four-blade bronze SHAFT: 5 inches x 12 feet, short shaft SPEED: 9 knots cruising FUEL CAPACITY: 25,000 gallons FRESHWATER CAPACITY: 9,000 gallons HOLD CAPACITY: Four tanks holding a total 420,000 pounds salmon or 220,000 pounds