The Salmon Killers - Part 2
So who are these people? What follows now is just an
overview of the Salmon Killers, some generalizations
about their ethnicity, their culture, education, ambition,
experience, and so forth. You just can't roll everybody
into one ball but you can try.
Bob Lawless, Port Ludlow, WA
And so here it goes. I've heard them called Oakies, poor
white trash, Grapes of Wrath stuff. Scum. But this is not
entirely true. Not everyone had a cracker accent. In fact
they were so diverse that it is difficult to say much here,
but, of course, it would be nice to know about whom we are
talking. Rather than attach some labels, we should try
to find some common qualities.
They were all brave (you just can't face the ocean if you
are a coward). They were all tough (the job is often brutal,
calling for strength and endurance). They were mostly quite
tuned in to the whole scene: they could navigate, run all
sorts of electrical gear, repair most anything and do it
at sea, smell salmon a mile a way, stay awake from dark of
dawn to dark of night, fight well, talk big, and be
contemptuous of anybody who was not on the "inside."
They were afraid of the ocean; always thinking that this
trip might be their last. They loved their boats; many
times this affection would exceed the love they had for
They hated a lot of people and things: environmentalists
or biologists or game wardens or government officials or
anyone who had any education or held any position of
authority. Few of them ever made it through high school,
let alone college. I can say I met dozens of the killers
and yet I never met an educated man. They despised people
of learning. They had "experience" and that was all that
mattered. "Book learnin ain't for nothin," they would often
They were mostly loners who didn't say much-kept to themselves.
Even at sea, they would seldom talk to the crew, but would
choose instead to go study the charts or check the equipment.
There is a famed loneliness about the sea and they would take
their cues from this: lonely men in lonely places, quietly dying
from being so alone.
They were never wealthy. While their boats may have cost
hundreds of thousands, it was the bank who owned the boats,
not them. They owned next to nothing. They would fish when
they could and then live on welfare or unemployment for the
rest of the year. Maybe they might cut some firewood for a
few unreported bucks. But they worked on their boats nearly
every day. Always this or that, a little improvement here or
there until the winter passed. Some had herring permits and
due to the design of their vessel, they could get in close
on the rocks and scoop up the herring which would be stripped
of their roe and then sent to Japan for the New Year. They
made so much money at this that they never liked to talk about
it for fear it would end. But only a few had these permits.
Most of them were young. You have to be young to put up
with this life. Anyone old would have figured out a way
to get anyplace else but here. Yet, there was sort of a
rank and file. Newbies never owned anything, just worked
as crew or did clean up and other nasty jobs. Then they
would get a boat, any boat. You have to start somewhere.
You moved up. A bigger boat was always a time of celebration.
Unless you had a boat of at least 36 feet, you were not taken
seriously; you were not a part of the fleet. Those who had
less length than that were known as the mosquito fleet. That
was my fleet.
Mosquitoes are annoying little insects that are always
trying to bite you, preferably on the fingers where the
itching will be horrible. "Damn nuisance," they would
say of us. "Us," I use here because I was a mosquito man.
And it is about mosquito men that I know the most.
NEXT: the mosquitoes. Comments or criticisms are always
welcome, whether positive or negative.
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