Book review: Bering Sea Strong

Though I have never done it myself, I have always thought that working the Bering Sea has to be one of the most challenging jobs a human could embark upon.

Now imagine that human is the only woman on the boat with a crew of 25 men out to sea for 90 days at a time. And even better, that woman is a federal observer — the enemy at sea.

Bering Sea Strong:
How I Found Solid
Ground on Open Ocean
By Laura Hartema
Skyhorse Publishing 2018
Hardcover; 211 pp.; $22.99

Laura Hartema’s memoir is about her unlikely escape to the Bering Sea. A harrowing adventure may seem like an unlikely catalyst for coping with your own demons. But Hartema found precisely what she needed onboard the Nomad, a 141-foot freezer longliner targeting cod, blackcod, turbot and rockfish.

Right off the bat, Hartema blends fishery know-how and knowledge beautifully with her own recollection of greenhorn jitters.

The Missouri native escaped first to Seattle. On finding dead ends there, she pushed farther north. It’s not an uncommon tale — seeking desolation and cold as if you could freeze the pain out of your own soul.

The Bering Sea is a scary place to be, even if you feel like you belong on a lonely boat in the middle of a freezing ocean teeming with sealife, but severely depleted of humans.

The few humans you have contact with, you have perhaps too much contact with. Within an hour of boarding the Nomad in Dutch Harbor, Hartema enters her stateroom to find a roommate in nothing but his white briefs.

“He seemed to revel in making me uncomfortable… I had ventured to the other side and was clearly in Man’s Land now.”

Yet Hartema finds her way against the odds, by delving into her own history to figure out how she got there in the first place.

Her description of having struggled to work with pained and dying animals in a veterinary clinic leaves you immediately questioning: How will she handle the fish coming over the rails, day in and day out? She has to count them, after all.

Hartema’s description is perfect.

“At least fish were safe… They didn’t stare at me with teary eyes, or pant, or whimper, or have a voice. They just gaped and gazed out into space, just like I was gazing at the letter from UW in my Seattle apartment, staring blankly at the word: Unfortunately.”

This memoir is a steady and entertaining read for veteran Alaska fishermen right on down to the slew of armchair sea hunters eager for another glance at life in the now-famous waters of the Bering Sea.

Hartema’s experience is both entirely relatable as the outsider but also inspired by her consistently buoyant spirit.

“When we get away from the familiar, we become most like ourselves.”

Meet Laura and buy her book at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle!

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 12 years, worked in maritime publishing for 17, and has served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee for two years.

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