Today was a milestone for the F/V Papa George. Steve and his crew filled all three hatches with sardines in one set! For those of you not familiar with fishing jargon, a "set" is the name for the complete process of encircling the fish with a seine net, and pumping the fish aboard. We expect this catch could be as much as 60 tons. It is exciting to have a near perfect set when most everything goes right, because there are so many sets when Murphy's Law prevails and the result is a "water haul". The next process was bringing the catch in over the ever dangerous Columbia River bar. Maximum ebb coincided with their crossing but it was the smaller of the two daily ebbs and the crossing was not too bad. After running up river for an hour to Astoria, OR., the catch will be pumped out of the hold into iced totes. Then the processors sort, size, and box the catch into 10 kilo boxes. The boxes are weighed and shelved on a rolling rack which goes into the blast freezer. They are later palletized and fork lifted into a 40 foot freezer container for shipping overseas.
The unloading will go on ideally for two to three hours. Then our crew cleans the holds and we take ice, from 5-10 tons of it. If we're lucky, and nothing in the plant breaks down, then the crew can grab some sleep. Steve is up before 6 am to begin the whole process again as he points the bow downriver and heads out over the bar for the open ocean. Our spotter pilot, Don. will be scouting for schools of sardines from Tillimook Head to Willapa Bay, a 50-70 mile distance. Steve mans the sonar and the radio , co-ordinating with Don, in finding a likely school. The sardines can be swimming as fast as eight knots so positioning our boat near a catchable school is not always easy. Steve's usual bark over the loud hailer is "Get ready" which tells the crew to hurry up and wait. The crewman are all in their places, prepared, impatient, with an ear for the inevitable call...."Let 'er go!" Johnny throws off the towline and the skiff falls behind attatched to the net. The net peals off the drum as Jonathan, our skiffman, pulls in the towline. He then turns the skiff around and keeps tension on his end of the net. Steve sets the net in a wide arc and circles around to the skiff. Sometimes Don can see the fish from above, but usually the fish dive and remain a mystery until the rings come up and the fish are trapped. If all goes well, the net will be drawn up, the pump lowered into the school of flipping sardines, and the fish will go from net to hold in an hour or two. So many things can go wrong, especially with bad weather or a big ground swell. It is useful to be optimistic, but to plan for the unexpected.
The Farmers Markets
in the University District and West Seattle are very busy. Our newest products were a vacuum packed smoked blue mackerel fillet and a butterfly-cut smoked Pacific sardine. My customers are great sports and bought everything! The next project is to bring up another batch of fresh sardines for the Saturday market. It is alot of work but the satisfaction of our customers who love sardines is well worth it.
Our tuna marketing association, WFOA, has a new website which features troll caught albacore. There is some good information on the benefits of troll caught albacore like Omega-3's and lower mercury. Papa George Gourmet Albacore is mentioned. Some animated clips demonstrate how to rig a jig. Thanks for the marketing support WFOA. New site: http://www.albatuna.com
A lot of people are concerned about the mercury issues with albacore tuna. Papa George Gourmet Albacore answers these questions and more on our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page