What's It Like to Be a Deckhand?

What's It Like to Be a Deckhand?

Mabel and Me

My name is Helen. I work in the marketing department at Sea to Table, and I’m also a commercial fishing deckhand. Some people find this unusual combination fascinating (mostly the deckhand part) and want to hear more about my job on our 100 year old boat, the F/V Mabel. She was built in 1923 and has worked every season since. Here’s what it’s like to work on her for a day.

Fishing vessel Mabel.

Up Before Dawn

Mabel’s diesel engine roars to life, shaking my bunk and waking me from an exhausted, too short slumber. My bunk is only 20” wide, necessitating the use of a rough-weather safety net lest I be thrown out like a week-old banana. But despite my pre-dawn brain fog, I manage to execute a perfect roll-dismount right into my Grundens bibs and Xtratuf boots and head onto the deck for the morning bite. The Captain is already out there. Whoops. It’s a deckhand’s job to be first on deck. Sheepishly, I help ready the gear. The air is heavy with mist and thick with excitement, and I cannot wait for the first line to hit the water.

A fisherman holding a tuna.

Fishing for Albacore Tuna

Today we are 100 miles offshore fishing for albacore tuna. Albacore are amazing fish, with strength and endurance that belie their small size. They can swim more than 50 miles per hour, have incredible eyesight, and strike the lines with thrilling ferocity. The captain and I each work a side of the boat, bringing the fish to the boat using hydraulic pinch-pullers, then reaching over the side to softly land the fish by hand to protect the quality of their meat. Each fish then needs to be bled, cooled and iced. It’s grueling work with very few breaks, but I grin almost the entire time. I’ve never had as much fun. 

The End of Another Beautiful Day

There is nothing like commercial fishing. Few other jobs offer the exhilarating unpredictability and terrifying beauty. I have seen pods of dolphins play in the Mabel’s wake, and sometimes a curious whale will come close enough to look in the eye. There is a camaraderie of solitude out on the water, excitement each time a fish is caught, and enough adrenaline to satisfy the most hardcore thrill-seeker. But there are few things nicer than when the captain shuts down the engine and I lay on my bunk, exhausted, as the water gently rocks the Mabel to sleep.

A sunset viewed from the bow of a fishing vessel

Sea to Table is an Important Partner

Albacore is my favorite fishery. It’s important to me that the fish we catch be responsibly and sustainably caught. This is also why I love my second job at Sea to Table. Sea to Table is likewise committed to respecting the ocean and all its inhabitants, and only sells responsibly-caught seafood from well-managed US fisheries. Most importantly, when you buy fish from Sea to Table you are supporting American fishermen like us. By putting healthy, delicious seafood on your family’s table, you are helping to support our families and communities.

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