I nabbed a few minutes on video with Sean Dwyer, Bering Sea crab and Alaska salmon tender captain, known for starring on the “Deadliest Catch,” as the youngest captain in the Bering Sea fleet, and co-hosting the Fisherman of the Year Contest at Pacific Marine Expo.
Dwyer talked to us from the forepeak of the Brenna A, as he and his crew made the last push to ready the boat in Seattle before heading back to Alaska to tender the salmon season in Bristol Bay.
We talked about the effects of covid-19 on the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay seasons, how he's managing repairs to his fleet, and what he was doing when he heard about the loss of the Scandies Rose.
“We were actually in the Anchorage airport, trying to get to Dutch Harbor,”says Dwyer. “We were doing the Ted Stevens game, where everybody lines up at 4:30 in the morning to get in line for standby, and a friend walked by and said, 'Hey the Scandies Rose went down. They're missing; they're searching for them.'”
Reports of heavy freezing spray put a spotlight on this high-risk fishery, which has marked significant losses two years running.
“It's a roll of the dice when you're working in Western Alaska in the wintertime,” Dwyer says. “We were in Anchorage, and the reason we couldn't get to Dutch was because of weather.”
Dwyer hopes the investigation report offers some answers to honor the people whose lives were lost at sea.
“Gary was a great guy. He was kind of a mentor to me in Bristol Bay, running the Naknek River with these big boats,” says Dwyer. “At least in his memory hopefully we can learn something good.”
The day we talked also happened to be the anniversary of his dad's passing from ALS. Dwyer talked about the family legacy of fishing and honoring his dad's memory, as well.
“I was kinda thrown into it as a kid,” Dwyer says. “But working with my dad when I was growing up, I had a really good role model, and decided at an early age this is what I wanted to do.”
Despite the added challenges and roadblocks, his team has so far weathered the shift to fishing in a pandemic. The news started to hit in January and February, even on the boat in one of the most remote parts of the fishing world.
“Every day was just more and more about corona,” Dwyer says. “It seemed to hit us all at once here starting in March.”
At the end of February, Dwyer left the Bering Sea to oversee some maintenance on the Jennifer A. “When I left Dutch, it was just another day in Dutch, you know?”
“It was a strange thing to come home to,” Dwyer adds.