Friday, March 03, 2006

Cannery work; won't it ever change?

Sometimes ya just gotta shoot the breeze about your roots. And in my case it's working in the cannery. I sent this great article on cannery work to the two of my three teenagers who might want to follow in their dad's footsteps.

The old homestead in Petersburg, AK I grew up in. My father helped build it in 1929.

One wants to design video games and mostly loves to try to get all his homework done in single digit minutes. The other was the one who said, "I just love to feel a fish struggling on the other end of my line." I think he's the one that might carry on the Enge tradition of sea-faring (and fish processing) that began God-knows when back in the Old World.

In that vein for a sec., I suppose my father reached the pinnacle of Enge seafaring by captaining a couple of 385 footers during WWII. The Navy gave him ships because they knew he had cut his navigational teeth on Wrangell Narrows. I say a couple, because the first one was blown in half by a torpedo or mine immediately upon crossing the North Atlantic. Maybe Daniel will build on the seafaring career he started with a summer on his uncle's gillnetter, about like his Grandpa did. Or he may opt to work in a cannery and not fret the 1/2 share that is usual these days for a first-timer on a seiner.

But I was inclined to immerse myself in the hustle and bustle of cannery and cold storage life. I had to fend for myself in the winters though. But I guess Key West and Israel weren't bad places to wait for the next season. I got to travel around Alaska a lot in those days of the expansion of Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods. Like flying down to Unimak Island to show a floater the difference between bright dogs and sockeye of the exact same size.

I thought I would be content to follow in my father's footsteps, but alas, I couldn't go along with the "give a little when they are looking and take a little when they aren't." I'm pretty much of a straight up guy. So I bailed out of that after a dozen years. With one hiccough in 1990, running a plant in Juneau.

The U of A Marine Advisory Program is now offering a course in "Plant Management." Like the other U of A attempt last fall, you sign up and see if there is enough interest. The highlight of the course, I hear, is a trip to the "other side" somewhere to see how other folks process fish. Heck, this crazy fish farm I worked on in Israel had more modern fish handling machinery than I'd seen in Alaska.

I remember one time Whitney sent Ben Berkeley, our cold storage foreman in Petersburg, to Seattle to watch production rates of those old Seattle ladies. They could beat our gang hands down. And we had a Filipino header, Dick Kuwata, that learned knifemanship preparing for the "commies" in the Philipines. That was humbling.

Well, everything is different nowadays by far. It changed radically just in the years I was on the docks, from the late 60s to about 1980. It started getting real corporate then, and the comaradarie of processing management went by the wayside. I think there are people that are born to do this kind of work. There are now 6.5 billion people in the world to choose from. I know there are some candidates somewhere for the big "processors." Probably more for the small processors.

As a side note, it would only be right if the owners of the big processing companies showed up in person at the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council proceedings. After all, they are asking the Federal authorities for billions of dollars (present value) of something that belongs to the public. My readers in Europe and Asia are now asking themselves, "You mean you can get billions of dollars in America by not even working for it?" The short answer is yes, if you have lost your altruism. I wouldn't suggest losing it though, in the end you will want it back but it will be too late.

Did you know that researchers find that all babies are altruistic at 18 months of age? Even at that age, they try to help out. Just thought I'd shed a little light for idealistic youngsters, thinking about processing as a career, like I was. But don't let this stop you from trying to make things better in your own way.