In April of 2000, Island Seafoods had just moved into its current building located right next to the breakwater adjacent to St. Paul Harbor. Back then we processed sport caught fish from charter boat clients and river anglers. We had a few boats that delivered jig caught cod and every once in a while, we landed a small load of halibut. We sold crab, scallops and halibut from our small retail counter to local customers and tourists passing through. It was a good little business that filled a niche in this town; little did we know, Island Seafoods was destined for something much bigger.
Early one morning in the fall of 2001, at the end of the Bristol Bay Red King Crab Season a big blue and yellow boat slowly pulled up along the south side of our brand new dock. As the crew tossed lines around the shiny new creosote covered pilings, the skipper came out of the wheelhouse. Captain Murray Gamrath, skipper of the F/V Gulf Winds looked up from the deck and with a warm smile on his face, asked if we had space for him to store his left over bait from the king crab season for a few months. He also needed a spot to tie up the 110 foot Gulf Winds for a few days while he and the crew made preparations for the 3 month rest until the January Opilio Season. Boy we had never seen such a big boat at our dock! The Gulf Winds took up the entire 100 foot stretch of our dock! We told Capt. Murray “No Problem Buddy!!” We had plenty of room in our freezers and plenty of space at our dock.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Captain Murray Gamrath and Josh Harris on the F/V Cornelia Marie, featured on the Discovery Channel’s show, “Deadliest Catch”. I met up with Capt. Murray in the parking lot of the fuel dock and even though it had been nearly 8 years since our brief encounter, he recognized me asked how things were going with me, my father and the business. Murray had to run down to his cannery to pick up some papers, but he told me to head down to the Cornelia Marie, where Josh was taking on several thousand gallons of diesel. Josh invited me aboard the Cornelia Marie with a welcoming smile and a firm hand shake.
Josh and fellow crewman Ryan were on the stern behind the wheelhouse topping off the tanks. The Cornelia Marie had just returned from tendering herring up in Togiak Bay located in northwest Bristol Bay. Josh said the fishery was pretty uneventful. The herring spawned pretty much right after the seine fleet arrived. The big load of the season delivered to the Cornelia Marie was only around 80 tons, compared to some record sets which exceeded 800 tons in last year’s Sitka Herring fishery!!
Josh and Capt. Murray are busy getting the boat ready to head back up to Bristol Bay to tender salmon in the fast and furious Sockeye Salmon fishery. The boat will leave Kodiak in five days. Before the boat heads up to the Bay, Josh and Capt. Murray are going to fly down to San Diego to film the “After the Catch” episode tomorrow. There the guys will meet up with Capt. Phil Harris, his younger son, Jake and the rest of the captains from the Discovery Channel’s hit show. While Capt. Murray will be running the boat for the summer season, Josh will be getting off the boat. He is heading to New York to participate in some corporate Discovery Channel events to help promote the show and the industry. When the tanks were topped off, Josh and Ryan tossed the lines and pulled away from the fuel dock. Capt. Murray invited me over to his slip in Dog Bay to sit down and catch up.
Over in Dog Bay, tucked in next to several 100 plus foot Bering Sea crabbers, I found the 127 foot Cornelia Marie. Out on deck, Josh was busy pressure washing herring scales and roe from the house and sides of the deck. When herring roe makes contact with salt water, it is almost impossible to remove from a smooth surface!!
Up in the wheel house, I sat down with Murray and we talked about his experience with the show, his history in the industry and his plans for the future. Capt. Murray had spent the last year running the Cornelia Marie while Capt. Phil Harris was recovering in Washington. The seasoned Bering Sea skipper has participated in the fishery for nearly 30 years. For the last 16 years, he has been running boats such as the F/V Labrador, the F/V Gulf Winds and the F/V Aleutian Ballad to name a few. Last year, Capt. Murray caught and delivered 1.1 million of the 1.2 million pounds of Opilio quota for the Cornelia Marie. He also landed 580,000 pounds of Red King crab this past season. When Capt. Murray is not at sea, he enjoys a quite life with his wife in Las Cruces New Mexico. The new found celebrity status has been a bit overwhelming at times. After the last crab season, he went from about 200 friends on his and his wife’s Facebook page, to well over 10,000!! Out and about, at the bank, the grocery store, at dinner, random people address him by first name. Capt. Murray would some day like to take this new found fame and apply it to marketing seafood of his own, but for now, the sea still calls him.
It was truly an honor to spend some time with a couple of really friendly, hard working, great guys who risk their lives every season to bring to market the finest crab the Bering Sea has to offer.
Until next time, Enjoy!