Pete Thompson, captain of the 32′ aluminum longliner F/V Dues Payer II, has an exuberant friendliness about him that’s contagious. He’s been fishing in Alaska for decades, and once you get him talking it’s not hard to tell that he’s still doing it today because he loves it!
Pete, How long have you been fishing?
Uh… 28 years!
And what got you started in the industry?
I hitchhiked my way to Alaska to make some money to pay for college, work in a processing plant like yours, and the next thing I know I found myself in the Bering Sea fishing King Crab.
What year was that?
What other fisheries have you been involved in other than Halibut and King Crab?
Tanner Crab, Opilio Crab, Shrimp, Cod… Herring, Bristol Bay Salmon I fished for twenty years.
And you currently still fish Bristol Bay
Halibut, mostly what I do now is Halibut.
So just why is your boat named the Dues Payer II?
Because when I was in the Bering Sea in the winter one year, for 90 days offshore, I knew I was making enough money to buy a boat, but I hated every second of being on the boat I was working on, the captain was really an idiot! So I was dreaming of what I would name my boat as I sat in my bunk at night… I put in my dues, my daddy didn’t give it to me, is what I say.
Working for 90 days straight inspired you to own your own boat and be your own boss?
No, yes… It inspired me…I knew it was giving me the economic opportunity to start something for myself. When you asked me about those fisheries I forgot to mention that what I was doing on this boat was joint venture Pollock with the Russians, Koreans, and Japanese… “roe stripping” in the Bering Sea, that’s what we were doing. You get your fuel at sea and food at sea and you would never came to land. You didn’t tie off, you just handed them your load and away they’d go. We did that for 90 days in the dead of winter on a local boat, the Vanguard… it was a little boat.
Did you have any close calls on boats you fished on or on your own boat?
I think anybody that’s been doing it that long has got a few… in 1981 I fell off a crab boat, the Ocean Challenger, and drowned, literally, I got run over by a 98 foot crab boat. Luckily, I was… they found me, got me back on board, but I was in pretty bad shape. I try not to remember that one, but I know that you don’t get that close to being dead twice. They circled around in twenty foot seas, in a snowstorm, to get me, and as they circled around they ran over me and I came out in the bow spray. You know Willie at Safeway? The freezer guy? He saved my life!
What’s the biggest challenge facing you today as a fisherman?
I guess just more rules and regulations and paperwork, just the increasing burden of paperwork.
If you could change one thing in this industry, what would it be?
I’d like to get a better price for our sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay.
Craziest thing you’ve brought up from the deep!
5 years ago off Chiniak in front of town here I brought up a femur bone, a human femur bone! We knew we were 8 miles offshore here, and we all knew it was something that wasn’t an animal bone… I left it on the deck for a few days, out by the door, and we were all walking around it, and I finally said “I’m gonna take it in”… I took it to the state troopers, to Darlene Turner, and she told me it was a right femur bone of a human!
What is your favorite thing to eat at sea?
We make that fall-apart chicken, haha, we made that last night.
And your favorite fish?
Rockfish, yelloweye rockfish!
Where do you see yourself and the industry in 10 years?
Myself in 10 years? Probably at the back end, seriously considering retiring. And the industry? More consolidated and less opportunities for the average joe!