Southeast Alaska

John Warnick, captain of the Otter. Photo by Emma Frisch at emmafrisch.com.

John Warnick is the captain of the Otter, a tender boat that serves Seafood Producers Cooperative fishermen members who fish in and around Sitka Sound.

Tender boats are essential to producing our premium-quality Alaska seafood, allowing fishermen to stay out on the water longer and focus on what they do best: Catch fish.

The tender boat serves as a freighter, every night taking fish back to port to be shipped out or brought to local restaurants. When the tender returns to sea, it brings back supplies, like groceries, ice, even fresh water or mail from town, to fishermen on their boats who don’t have time to return to town. Fishermen can take showers on tender boats, too.

What’s really special about tenders is the service they offer to fishermen. When morale’s low–fish aren’t biting, the wind’s picking up–there’s nothing like a chocolate chip cookie or just a pleasant chat and a smile to keep the fishermen going through the tough days.

Alaska Seafood

Emma McCutcheon bakes delicious chocolate chip cookies for Seafood Producers Cooperative members. John enjoys a coffee while waiting for fishermen to deliver. Photo credit: Emma Frisch (www.emmafrisch.com).

Like a lot of seafaring people in Alaska, John’s not originally from Alaska. Alaska fishermen tend to either come from a long line of fishermen, representing generations of fishing in Alaska. Or, like John, they hitchhike across the country in search of adventure and find it in Alaska, one of the last bastions of really wild, beautiful, pristine wilderness.

Contrary to popular belief, living in the “Last Frontier” requires a lot of community-minded thinking. Alaskans look out for each other and this special fellowship with neighbors might be especially true in Southeast Alaska. Southeast Alaska is unique in the sense that fishing takes places pretty much year round, especially for those who fish with traditional hook and line methods (aka trolling), like Seafood Producers Cooperative members. Trolling means smaller, more family-oriented boats; there’s more time to fish and it’s easier to meet and make lasting friendships with people.

Alaska Seafood

The Otter is a tender for the fishermen/members of Seafood Producers Cooperative in Sitka, Alaska.

This tight-knit community is what allowed John to become captain of the Otter. After not finding what he wanted in school, John was drawn to a life of art and wanderlust and hitchhiked his way to Alaska from Kansas City. John spent 5 years crewing on Seafood Producers Cooperative boats, learning the ropes of trolling and the fishing business.  His impression was that co-op members have a tremendous level of pride in what they do. John was  proud to be associated with the reputation for unparalleled quality and workmanship for which Seafood Producers Co-op is known.

Working on the water allows John to remain independent. His friends back in Kansas City ask him if working on fishing boats is like “Deadliest Catch,” and he can say that working in Southeast Alaska is a lot more relaxed, though not lacking for unpredictable weather, hard work and adventure.

The Otter is owned by crew member Andy Lange’s father. Andy was raised on the waters of Southeast Alaska, growing up on a co-op member’s fishing boat. Annie McCutcheon baked the delicious cookies that are offered to fishermen. And Bailey Farneth rounds out the crew that can enjoy the beautiful Southeast Alaska scenery when not serving fishing boats.

Southeast Alaska

Andy Lange, Annie McCutcheon, Bailey Farneth and John Warnick enjoying the Southeast Alaska scenery from the Otter while they wait for fishermen to deliver.

Working with fishermen in the thick of bad weather with fluctuating prices for fish might be one of the more difficult aspects of the job, but other challenges include how how to park a large boat in a spot to which fishermen can easily deliver, given wind, currents and fishing conditions.

At the end of the day, what a tender boat does is allow a fisherman to remain independent, which is what fishermen like best. But a tender also provides community, a place where they can gather to take care of basic needs, which is so necessary for making a go of it in the wilds of Alaska in an incredibly difficult occupation like being a fisherman.

 

Alaska Seafood

John Warnick, captain of the Otter