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Tenakee Inlet shrimping….

In October I jumped aboard the F/V Morgan Anne for the third and final time of the year to head out to Tenakee Inlet.  The Morgan Anne is a versatile vessel that is about as diversified as any well managed stock portfolio, she fishes for crab, halibut, black cod, shrimp, and tenders salmon in the summers.  I again joined my friend Ian Fisk to photograph him and his crew Thatcher and Steve as they shrimped for spot prawns.  Tenakee Inlet is roughly 70 miles from Juneau by boat, and is home to the small community of Tenakee Springs.  The month of October in Southeast Alaska heralds the coming winter with its notorious torrential downpours of rain drops burdened with the weight of the coming months of cold and dark accompanied by equally unforgiving winds.  Thankfully, Tenakee Inlet is relatively sheltered compared to the squally nature of the adjacent stretch of water in Chatham Strait, sparing us the harsher nature of the wind and waves.

The spot prawns shrimp fishery in Tenakee Inlet is usually a brief affair that ends shortly after it starts.  This year the Morgan Anne and a handful of other boats, managed to reach the Guide Harvest Limit set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game roughly 36 hours after it opened; which meant I had to get my photos and jump ship in Tenakee Springs to fly back to Juneau.  The only other option was to stay aboard as the boat moved between the surrounding inlets and bays in search of shrimp, until they returned to Juneau 12 or so days later.  With other pressing matters back in town I resolved to get what I could in my short time aboard.

Shrimping is done using pots consisting of two rebar rings, the bottom slightly larger than the top allowing for stacking, covered in a small mesh net with a few openings for the shrimp to enter.  The pots are set in strings with roughly 6 to 10 pots between two buoys, usually set along a slope of the bottom around 40 fathoms down.  Spot prawns are big, with females topping out at around 12 inches! An interesting evolutionary adaptation of spot prawns is that they are hermaphrodites, usually starting out their life cycle as males, and then in one of the many wonders of nature some of them transform into females. This is not a hard and fast rule, as some spot prawns sexually mature straight into females and males can live their entire life cycle without making the sexual transformation to females.

The process of shrimping is much like other pot fishing, where the gear is baited, set, picked, re-baited, and re-set.  Ian’s operation is a little more involved in that he processes all the shrimp, freezes/preserves, and markets his own brand called Primo Prawns.  The process is pretty straightforward and rather labor intensive.  Once all the gear has been run through at least once, the crew begins processing the shrimp by heading them and sorting them for quality, size, and eggs.  After all the shrimp are processed they are weighed into 2-pound portions, zip-locked, packaged and placed in an industrial freezer for two hours.  When the shrimp have chilled for two hours, they are glazed using a liquid-sugar concoction for preservation and storage, and placed back in the freezer.  Days shrimping are fast paced with a crew of two working the deck; Thatcher and Steve were never standing still and constantly joking about something.  There was little down time between running the gear and processing the shrimp, which made the opener fly by.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in conjunction with the Alaska State Troopers closely manages fisheries around the state, and spot prawns are no exception.  In thirty-six hours the boat was boarded once by the Troopers and Fish and Game swung by at least three times to check-in and get catch estimates.  Much to Ian’s chagrin the fishery closed a little over half way through the second day, which meant the pots were only run through twice.  I spent the rest of the afternoon of the second day photographing and helping to process the shrimp, and at around 1 AM the Morgan Anne pulled into Tenakee Springs to drop me off.

The harbor was dark and quiet as I shuttled my gear ashore, save for the stirrings of a lone fishing vessel settling down for the night on the outermost finger.  The night was dark enough that in the distance I was unable to discern where the water began and the sky ended.  I stood alone on the dock and watched as the Morgan Anne pushed its way through the indiscernible boundary of the sea and sky as it ran through the night to reach the next fishing grounds.  I had come prepared for the situation and brought along my one-man tent in case I needed to spend a day or two waiting to fly home.  Given that it was Fall and bears were more than likely still milling about making their final preparations for the long winter, and with few other options availing themselves, I setup camp in the exact spot I jumped ship.  The night was peaceful with the mild swaying of the concrete beneath me as I was lulled to sleep by a small group of humpbacks resting off of the breakwater.

I awoke the next morning and made my way into the center of the small town.  Homes in the community are bisected between the uphill part of town and the waterfront by a narrow dirt road that runs the length of the shore of the inlet. The size of the town and its road has made many residents turn to the use of golf carts for the main form of transportation, over the more common small town Alaskan mode of transportation the 4-wheeler.  Two-wheeled carts commonly seen in harbors around the state can be found in every yard and are the other common means of transporting goods to and fro in the small community.  A resident was kind enough to offer me the use of his spare cart to walk my gear the remaining three blocks to the Seaplane office, I declined and thanked him for his generosity and made my way to purchase my return passage to Juneau.  I was hoping to have more time to photograph the small town, but there was space for me on the next flight and the wind and weather were kicking up, which could have easily trapped me for days waiting for the next floatplane.

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Had to watch the eclipse on the internet, thanks to our persistent liquid sunshine. I'll settle for these beads of rain on a gull feather, as my earthly observation of the day. #liquidsunshine #noeclipse #beachfind #raindrop

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