Snug

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Sunday, December 28, 2008
Snug Life: 1 Month in an Alaskan Salmon Cannery
It’s been about 5 months since I left Snug Harbor Cannery in Soldotna, Alaska. My original intention was to put this story together in the 2 days between throwing our last fish, and embarking on the 2000 mile drive from Anchorage to Seattle to continue the tour… but as you may guess, that never came to pass. I waspreoccupied with enjoying my last days in Alaska (fish-free), and the urgency of the approaching quest to the lower 48. However, now, the tour is over, and no matter how bad things got along the way, I can look back on them with my 20/20 hindsight and enjoy (or at least appreciate that we survived it all).

This is part of that hindsight. With 5 months and almost 5000 miles between us, I can look backand appreciate my time at Snug Harbor.

With that in mind, here’s the story of a typical day at Snug Harbor. All photos are thanks to the relentless dedication of Laura Webb. Not only did she join us to document our tour to Alaska, but continued on to work alongside us in the cannery and capture this unique part of our trip- for better or worse.

The full photo journal from the cannery isavailable here:

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|Snug Harbor |

The people involved in this experience got here by means of their creative projects. You can check out what brought us to Alaska here:

Mose Giganticus
The Emotron
The Music Underground

WAKE UP!

A typical day would start at 6:45am with a cell phone alarm going off in our ears. Wewere living in our bus parked in the lot of the cannery. The roof would be leaking from the relentless rain overnight. As luck would have it, this was the rainiest Alaskan summer in the past 53 years. It’s 50 degrees, damp, and cloudy. We’ve got 30 minutes to get some bad coffee, plain oatmeal, and suit up for work by 7:15. Or I could hit the snooze button and skip breakfast…

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CLOCK IN!Usually by 7:15, the workers are gathering in line to clock in and start what may turn into another 20 hour work day. It all depends on the catch last night and we won’t know until we’re elbow deep in guts. The first to clock in has dibs at the community gear rack, which if you’re lucky, means bibs that fit AND have no holes! The early bird gets a drier, slightly warmer work day. Slow pokesend up with wet clothes. So let’s suit up and get on the line! (Don’t forget your beard net, MATT!)

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THE LINE!

The cannery warehouse is quiet and sterile before the day’s work begins.

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Less than 5 minutes after clocking in, the line explodes into action- with messy results. It won’t take more than 30 seconds before you’re covered in blood and guts.Everything you’re wearing will somehow, someway get fish parts on it. The clothes you wear to work are sacrificed to the cannery- you’ll never be able to wear them again without the permeating stench of dead fish. As a result, most people wear the same thing everyday, never bothering to wash it. You get used to it.

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Everyone has a job to fill on the line. It only takes a minute or two to getthe hang of your special position to fill. The hard part is finding a way to maintain the short repetitive motions for a 16-20 hour day without going numb. That takes technique, which is developed over time. During my time at Snug, I worked just about every position at the “head” of the line – feeding the header, heading (briefly), boring, belly slicing, gutting, and feeding the line. So now,let’s go down the line a bit…

The salmon are dumped out of totes, fresh from the docks, 1000 lbs. at a time. First, they are headed with this larger mechanical guillotine…

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…which quickly makes a large pile of fresh fish heads (that can be sold for $.50/lb to make dog food!)

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Did you get all that?

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After their heads are off, the fish are gutted by inserting a...
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