Sunday, November 25, 2018

Life Filleting Fish for a Summer

Our son was determined to have an "Alaskan" job this past summer, so he focused his job search on the Homer Spit. Through word of mouth, he heard North Country Charters was paying well for office jobs, but when he walked in and asked about it, they suggested perhaps he'd like to be a fish filleter. With the potential of making more money, he was enticed, but it took some persistence on his part to make it happen.

He'd never filleted a fish before in his life, so some folks went out and caught fish for him to practice on. He would go to school all day, run track practice and then get the call that they had some fish for him to work on. He'd don some grungy clothes and dash out to the Spit. A past filleter for North Country showed him the ropes and let him at it. He practiced on a few fish and they declared him good at it, so he was in business.

Hanging, washing, weighing the fish. Then comes the pictures with them!
The small, white plastic container is for the halibut cheeks, a coveted delicacy

The large halibut, over 100 pounds or so, are filleted "on the ground"--saving the filleter's back in heaving them onto the table

Other species caught include various types of rockfish, lingcod, and salmon

Anywhere from one to five boats would go out each day for North Country, and our son would be called when the captains of the boats called in, giving him 20 minutes notice to get to work, so he was on call after noon each day. Sometimes all the boats would come in after each other, and he would get 4 boats' worth of fish filleted in 2 hours. Other times a boat would get its quota early and others would come in later, leaving a gap between boats to hang out with friends, grab a bite to eat or sit on the beach.

The hauler was an essential part of the team, getting the fish off the boat in the harbor and hauling them up to the charter building, hanging the fish, washing them off, weighing the larger halibut, and getting pictures. From there, our son would take over, getting the fish on the filet table and going to work, separating them among totes according to who on the boat caught them. From there, a fish processor would pick them up and process them according to the customer's preferences.

With its location right next to Finn's Pizza on the Spit, a popular eatery, folks could watch the filleting show as they dined and we had many locals tell us they'd seen our son at work.  We watched his arms become sinewy and brown as the summer progressed. Luckily the weather was pretty nice this summer, but fish get caught rain or shine, so he would be out there no matter what the weather, usually in a short-sleeved t-shirt. He would wax eloquent about different knives and show off his knife sharpening skills, which were deeply embedded in muscle memory after doing it many times daily for 3 months.

It was a good job for a guy going off to college, with a really good company to work for, getting paid a flat rate per boat plus tips for a job well done. He looks forward to another summer of "Alaskan" work. For us it was further initiation into a slice of life in Homer.

On nice days, this doesn't seem like a bad job

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