In the off-season, the Alaska trawl fleet returns to Seattle for the annual maintenance that keeps the fleet sturdy at sea

Visiting the big boats at Pier 91 might be as close as most people will get to the action on the Bering Sea. The waves rolling invisible through the endless Arctic night, unseen until they reach the lights of the boat; the ice-covered decks; the huge cod ends hauled aboard with thousands of pounds of fish in the mix — all of it can only be imagined when walking among the giant vessels at Seattle’s Pier 91.

Built in 1988 at Todd Pacific Shipyard in Tacoma, Wash., the 334-foot factory trawler Arctic Storm is owned by Arctic Storm Management Group, which was one of the original companies that established the Pollock Conservation Cooperative under the American

The youngest of these boats is the Arctic Storm. Built in 1988, she is a virtual child next to the 53-year-old Northern Jaeger. The grind of fishing for weeks and months at a time in a remote and sometimes brutal environment takes its toll on these boats that together with a few dozen others, prosecute the largest fishery in the United States, the Alaska pollock fishery. In volume alone, it dwarfs the rest.

Six catcher boats supply fish to the processing vessel Golden Alaska. Built in 1972, the vessel produces a variety of pollock products and turns its fish waste into meal and oil, sending little of the catch back to the sea. Astern of the Golden Alaska are

In 2020, the fleet of 30-plus vessels, not including catcher boats, landed 3.23 billion pounds of Alaska pollock from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, with a value of approximately $420 million, according to NOAA statistics. It sounds like a pile of money — and it is. But new boats cost in the millions to build. So the fleet returns to Pier 91 and other docks around the Seattle area, where workers swarm over them, keeping them fit for service.

One of the largest catcher-processor vessels in the world, the 376-foot Alaska Ocean was built at Blount Marine in Warren, R.I., in 1981, and rebuilt in 1990 specifically for the pollock fishery. After more than 40 years fishing, many millions of pounds o

It’s a big job. And even on a Sunday morning, the flash of welders can be seen, accompanied by the sound of power tools and engines. A team of Caterpillar mechanics works on the gensets of the Ocean Rover. A crew in greasy overalls readies the deck gear on the American Triumph. Everywhere people are walking up and down steep gangplanks, carrying tools and pieces of equipment.

Glacier Fish Company’s giant, the 376-foot Alaska Ocean can freeze as much as 220 metric tons of fish products a day, as well an additional 40 tons of fishmeal and 8,000 gallons of fish oil. Paul Molyneaux photo

On the dock stands a row of propeller blades. Farther along, a new net reel sits ready to go aboard, while old winches and processing equipment ready await removal. Near the boats, voluminous containers get filled with refuse.

Built by Levingston Shipbuilding in Orange, Texas, in the year of the first moon landing in 1969, the majestic Northern Jaeger lies at her berth in Seattle. Owned by American Seafoods, the 330-foot vessel was converted in 1990 into a single-level fish pro

There are new boats coming to the fleet, Arctic Storm Management Group’s new Arctic Fjord, and Glacier Fish Company’s North Star. But these decades-old veterans remain the backbone of the fleet. From Seattle, they return north to catch the fish that feed a hungry customers around the globe.

When accessing areas deep in the bowels of a large factory trawler like the 273-foot American Dynasty, sometimes it’s easier to take a shortcut. Paul Molyneaux photo
Fishing vessels utilize various brands of trawl doors. The Danish trawl door designer and manufacturer Thyborøn has been making custom doors since 1967. Paul Molyneaux photo
Owned by North Star Fishing Co., the 185-foot Unimak is among the smaller boats at Pier 91. Built in 1981, the vessel fishes cod, rockfish and flatfish. Paul Molyneaux photo

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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