Bringing Hawaii’s freshest seafood into the kitchens and onto the tables of our customers is a team effort. From the sales representatives upstairs to the processors in our shop downstairs, from our truck drivers to our marine mechanics, we all depend on one another to provide the best quality, service, and freshness in the industry. But of all the members of our team that drive this ocean-to-table process, it’s our captains and fishermen that play perhaps the most unusual and least understood role of all.
So what goes on out there aboard Hawaiian Fresh Seafood’s fishing boats? What’s it like to be a longline fisherman in Hawaii and who exactly is catching your fish? To find out, we brought a camera out with us on the F/V Cumberland Trail. We took some pictures and we took some notes. What follows is a Hawaii longline fishing trip in pictures:
Heading Out: By the time bait, ice, and groceries are loaded onboard it’s almost midnight. The crew pull mooring lines into the boat and captain Ben maneuvers out of the harbor.
Under Way: Steaming out to the fishing grounds can take a few days and with easterly trade winds pushing the water towards the islands, it can get a little bumpy. We were lucky this trip and enjoyed unusually calm seas.
Wetting The Line: There’s a lot of water in the Pacific and finding the fish can be akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Captain Ben studies current, temperature, water structure, and bottom contours all of which inform his choice of where to fish on a given day.
Setting Gear: The Cumberland Trail usually sets about 35 miles of gear and nearly three thousand hooks. This is Will demonstrating how each hook is baited by hand and tossed into the water. During the trip crew members will take turns setting the gear so that they can get some extra sleep.
Slow and Steady: It take between five and six hours to get the gear into the water. When the last hook is baited and tossed over, a radio buoy is attached and the gear is left to “soak” for several hours. The crew have a midday meal and get some sleep until it's time to bring it in.
Evening Meal: As the crew get ready for hauling operations, they fill up on nourishment. A solid meal now is important since another opportunity to rest might not come until morning.
All Night Long: Depending on the weather, how much fish they’re catching, and other factors, hauling in the gear can take from 10 to 14 hours.
Bringing In The Gear: Everyone has a job to do on deck. Driving the boat, coiling the lines, gaffing fish, cleaning and icing the catch… There’s a lot to do and everyone settles into a routine fueled by music coming from the deck speakers.
Fish On: Once a fish is alongside the boat the crew carefully use gaffs to secure it and bring it on deck. A poorly placed gaff or any other mistake at this point can prove disastrous and result in the fish getting away. When a marker bigeye is at the door, everyone on deck comes together to make sure it ends up in the ice hold.
Processing: Once on board the work continues and each fish is bled, gilled, and gutted before being lowered to the ice hold.
Ice Hold: Each fish is individually packed in ice for the ride home. Larger fish that are still giving off body heat are packed and then repacked to ensure freshness.
Variety: Although bigeye tuna is the target species for our fishing trips, we still love to see non-target species like opah, aka moonfish. These fish add variety to our catch and our customers love it!
Dusk til' Dawn: When the fishing's good, the crew is just finishing the haul when the sun comes up. Despite long hours and grueling work, the crew are always happy when the catch is good.
Homeward Bound: After about two weeks of fishing, the F/V Cumberland Trail has a good load of fish and is headed home to offload the catch.
Home Sweet Home: As soon as the boat hits the dock, the crew is greeted by the rest of the Hawaiian Fresh Seafood Team who immediately begin offloading the catch. The fish will be processed and on its way to our customers within hours.