Thirty years ago, Mike and Pat Burns’ definition of a good season was having enough money the next spring to buy the fuel they needed to make it back up to Cordova. Times have changed.
Roger Fitzgerald caught up with the brothers both then and now — in a 1983 article for Alaska Fisherman’s Journal and in his August column for National Fisherman (“Blue is the new green,” p. 8) coming out this week.
When we first meet the Burns brothers — East Coast natives from Fayetteville, N.Y. — they’re relatively new to fishing. After a couple successful seasons crewing on salmon seiners they decide to buy a former Chesapeake Bay buyboat they named the Chesapeake. That’s Mike and Pat at the bow, right.
The Chesapeake was in rough shape when they first saw it near Astoria, Ore., “tied up in a river slough which looked like a Louisiana swamp. You had to wade to get to her.” Even worse, after they fixed her up for halibut, prices collapsed, and they spent much of their time tendering for North Pacific in Prince William Sound. (For the whole story, read “Two brothers and a boat from Chesapeake Bay,” which was reprinted in the July 2012 Pilot House Guide.)
Now here’s the sequel. Thirty years and many boats later, the brothers, founders of Blue North Fisheries, are building the Blue North, a 191-foot longliner for the Bering Sea cod fishery, which promises to be the first of its kind in U.S. waters.
Designed by the Norwegian firm Skipsteknisk and being built by Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Wash., Blue North is set to be launched in late 2014. Among its many state-of-the-art features, the boat makes fuel-saving and sustainability top priorities. Her diesel electric engine is supposed to reduce fuel costs and emissions by 30 percent, and her hull will be designed to lessen resistance for even greater fuel economy.
There are many more “wow factors” about this boat that you can read about in our August issue. But Fitzgerald also has to ask, with cod prices “through the floor,” why they’re spending $35 million on this vessel now?
It turns out (or at least it seems) that not everything has changed. Though written 30 years apart, I thought this quote from the 1983 story sums up their attitude both then and now:
“Success is not going backwards,” said Pat. “If we were in it strictly for the money, we’d have been out of it a long time ago.”
Photo courtesy of Mike and Pat Burns.