Shaun Andrew is the Ship Captain of the Northern Leader, Alaskan Leader Seafoods’ 184 foot vessel. For those who don’t know, Alaskan Leader Seafoods LLC supplies Petcurean with their Alaskan Leader® brand cod for our GATHER Wild Ocean™ recipe. Alaskan Leader is family founded and family run (just like Petcurean) and operates out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The fish they provide us with is caught by longline, one of the most environmentally-friendly and sustainable methods of fishing used today.
Recently, we had the privilege of interviewing Captain Shaun to learn more about his background, his passion and the benefits of longline fishing.
How did you get into this career and working with Alaskan Leader Seafoods?
Well, I moved to Kodiak, Alaska when I was 12 years old. It’s a small fishing community there and in the summertime we would always go fishing, so over time I naturally just gravitated towards it. I did take off to college at one point but eventually returned back home and started fishing, and then I guess I never went back. I just stuck with it.
Alaskan Leader Seafoods started in 1990. Prior to that, I did pretty much everything on ships, ran crab boats and trawlers, just about everything you could do besides being an owner. When I started with Alaskan Leader I spent 8 years as a captain, then I eventually became an owner in the company. To me, that was my ultimate goal.
Can you describe your day to day routine?
The most important thing is schedule. It’s like Groundhog Day. Every day is the same, just like the movie. We try to keep it very structured on the ship.
My day starts with hauling the gear. I will haul for about 14 hours or so and from there I will have all the gear on board and then I begin setting the lines. We try to set the gear at the same time every day, it’s really tightly run. Then I will set for two more hours, until I wake the mate up and then get some sleep for about 7 hours. Then you get back up and do it all over again.
We set about 40 miles of gear per day. A Norwegian Mustad Auto machine baits the gear with squid that is fed onto a track and pieces are individually cut for each hook as the line travels through the machine. We then haul everything back onto the ship in 24 hours.
Our theory then is basically we are going to have that fish in the freezer in one hour. The bleeding process is a big deal because there is no bruising, which makes a high quality product. Everything is super fresh on these vessels. As the fish are taken off the line they travel into the factory where they are bled and then they go into a Nano ice tank. Our goal is to keep all fish products very cold until they are placed into the plate freezers to freeze down to -30 °F.
When the gear is brought back onto the vessel it needs to be overhauled by a three man gear crew. They replace bent and broken hooks and look at the main line to make sure it is in good condition. They make any necessary repairs to return the gear to perfect condition so it’s ready to be set out the next day.
Weather is the biggest battle and it can definitely change things, but we push hard to keep the schedule the same. It’s important for the crew to keep the routine.
How important is the Marine Stewardship Council certification?
The MSC Fisheries Standard is designed to assess if a fishery is managed for protection against overfishing, habitat damage, and pollution. It was developed in consultation with scientists, the fishing industry, and conservation groups and reflects the most up-to-date understanding of internationally-accepted fisheries science and best practice management.
Basically what that means is we have a well managed, sustainable fishery. We don’t over-fish, we are not catching endangered fish in any way and we are not harming the ocean. Longline fishing is one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable methods in the fishing industry. No other fishing technology in the world has the advantage of harvesting quality fish while still leaving a minimal environmental footprint on the ocean floor. This one-fish-at-a-time method produces the highest quality seafood, recognized to be superior, through the careful handling of individually hooked fish. By using this method, our vessels catch the targeted fish while minimizing bycatch of other species.
How does longline fishing differ from more traditional methods such as net fishing?
Well, to start out, longline fishing consists of laying a line down on the bottom of the ocean that’s 11 mm wide and there’s a hook every 49 inches on that line. Just like in sport fishing, every individual hook will catch a fish and when you bring it up the fish is alive. A particular school of cod can be located, identified, and brought on board, without the damage to the ocean floor associated with some net fishing. Individually-hooked fish are handled carefully, and the minimal bycatch of fish other than cod are released, live.
One key thing that’s also very important, on the Northern Leader nothing is thrown over the sides. Everything in the fish is utilized in one way or another. Longline fishing is the best way to catch cod and overall the most environmentally friendly.
Thanks Captain Shaun, we’re proud to partner with you and Alaskan Leader Seafoods!
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