AK: Bristol Bay fishing captains ‘speed hire’ to find their perfect match

Skipper, Bob Bonanno, interviews potential crew member, Adam Henry, during speed hiring at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo. (Credit- Avery Lill, KDLG)

It’s early days in Bristol Bay’s commercial salmon season. For the past several weeks, the boat yards have been filled with skippers and crew readying their vessels to hit the water. The draw of fishing the world’s largest sockeye run sometimes even leads hopefuls to hop on a plane with nothing but a ticket and a dream of finding a job.

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The Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek is playing matchmaker.

Men and women move seats at a long row of folding tables. Their goal: to convince the captains on the other side that they are the one.

Skippers Ante Vukic and Bob Bonanno both had crew members back out at the last minute. Both have in mind what they’re looking for in a match.

“Basically, safety and will to learn. Drug-free and alcohol, more or less free. Because that’s the biggest killer of the fishermen,” Vukic said.

“Basically, someone that’s not shy, that appears physically fit and just has a passion and doesn’t look to be prone to drama,” Bonanno said. “I don’t like drama on the boat.”

Each speed hiring pair has five minutes to chat. The moderator keeps time. (Credit – Avery Lill, KDLG)

The lanky youth across the table from Bonanno looks at the skipper earnestly. He tells the man that he already knows his knots and hitches.

He’s been in Naknek for days. without a lot of success.

“I — well, tell you the truth, I haven’t really got a job yet. Thing is, before I flew down — I came from Tennessee,” Adam Henry said. “Saw some stuff on Facebook about the Fish Expo. So I had that in my mind. But I came down here early, walked the docks. And that didn’t work out so good. But I’m hoping I’m going to find my home for this time being here.”

Henry’s story of walking the docks is pretty typical. That’s why speed-hiring has been a highlight event at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo for two years. Katie Copps-Wilson is an expo organizer.

“Actually, it came from Tinder, the dating website. And we were thinking about all the captains and crew that came up,” Copps-Wilson said. “There’s a lot of crew that are beating the docks looking for a boat, and there’s a lot of skippers out there looking for crew members. And it just seems like there was a lot of work going into those two things, so last year we came up with ‘speed dating,’ well which we term ‘speed hiring’ in order to connect captains and crew.”

The organizers settled on a structure more similar to old time speed dating than Tinder. Captains and crew don’t have to make a split second decision about whether or not they click.

“So I just think it’s really cool because it gives everybody an opportunity to visit and move on and kind of give an idea for the people, and it keeps people moving along, so they can kind of see what’s out there,” Copps-Wilson said. “Because if you just gave them one room, then, you know people like captains, they’ll cork everybody off.”

For you landlubbers, corking off is slang for putting out a net just outside someone else’s net and intercepting their fish.

So did this year’s captains find what they were looking for? Did they fill that hole in their crew?

Here’s what Ante Vukic and Bob Bonanno had to say

“Well, I met quite a few interesting people, younger people that they wanted to give it a chance,” Vukic said. “I was pretty happy with what I heard this morning, and I am planning to call this guy back and have a little longer interview with him.”

“I have two very good prospects, so I’m going to work on that a little bit, go through my notes and give one of them a call here shortly,” Bonanno said.

Sounds like more matches made in Bristol Bay.