Longtime Bristol Bay skipper enjoying the change of pace that tendering fish brings, as well as the added local jobs he can provide.
Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery needs tenders, and a lot of them, to do what it does. Tenders take the massive amount of sockeye caught by a large fleet and bring them, chilled, to shore-based processors.
Of course Bristol Bay’s iconic 32-foot drift boats usually get the glory, and entering the PAF boat yard in Dillingham one sees hundreds of them. But grabbing some attention up front in the yard is Frank Wood’s 60-foot tender with its large, blue buoys hanging off the sides. Woods started a tendering business called Paradise Logistics just a few years ago, and ahead of this season his sons are busy at work getting the vessel ready to launch.
“It’s a lot of waiting and then it gets busy and stays busy for a while,” Darryl Woods, Frank Woods’ son and co-captain, said of running a tender.
Frank Woods and two other partners purchased their tender boat in 2015. He spent 55 days fixing it up, and named it ‘Kulukak Queen’ in memory of his grandmother.
This is what’s special about Woods’ operation – it is family oriented. Last year all 10 of his kids spent the season with him, and this year three of his sons will accompany him.
Woods is always quick with a joke, even when asked how working with his kids has gone.
“Horrible,” he said. “No, I love working with them. I’m very fortunate,” he said. “My kids are mechanically inclined. They have really good work ethics – I rarely have to tell them twice what to do.”
Woods has commercial fished salmon and herring his whole life, but now he is transitioning towards the tendering side of this fishery. He appreciates that it is a more reliable income, as it does not depend on the price of fish or fish return, but rather just a contract.
“I can at least operate my business plan off that without having any worry too much unless something drastic or act of God happens.”
Woods contracts with Copper River Seafoods and primarily buys drift catch in Naknek, then from setnetters from Togiak, before the short season ends.
The Kulukak Queen is not the biggest tender in the Bay, but she can hold 120,000 pounds of salmon.
“Which is a little above average for this size boat because it is all tank essentially,” he said proudly.
The 35-ton refrigerated sea water system can chill 100,000 pounds of fish before he delivers to the shore based processor. The Kulukak Queen has proven fast and efficient as it makes deliveries, often several times a day during the peak of the run.
“We have a really unique situation where we are living in the biggest sockeye fishery in the world,” Woods said.
Tendering is steady work but it is not always glamorous. The crew may go 48 hours straight without a break, and like fishing, there is a lot of busy work.
“There’s a lot to do,” he said. “It’s not just jumping aboard and collecting a check. A lot of background work that needs to be done a regular basis – upkeep of the vessel, there’s always something to be done.”
Other than fish, his tender business provides other amenities to fishermen, selling them fuel, groceries, smokes, and doling out those very necessary hot cups of coffee.
At this point in his career, Woods said he knows just about everyone fishing in Bristol Bay. Now he’s taking their bags of fish across the rails rather than competing against the nets. It’s a nice change.
“If you’re working with people you know it makes it a lot more enjoyable,” he said. “And then servicing that, whatever service it be hauling, tendering fish it makes it even better.”
One thing Woods prides himself on is providing local jobs and keeping money in the community. Last year he employed seven workers, with a captain, co-captain, deck crew, engineer, and even a cook to keep everyone fueled.
“A little over $100,000 put back into the Dillingham community, and that equates to seven times – it rotates,” he said. “Yeah, it feels good knowing the employee family, but also people in town and creates its own economy. It’s kinda rewarding.”
Woods’ son Darryl will be his dad’s co-captain for the second year. He just arrived to work on the boat two weeks ago, as he was finishing the spring walrus and sea lion hunt in Little Diomede, where he lives.
“I came here without even talking to my dad. I told him I was going to head this way a month ago,” Darryl Woods said. “I didn’t even talk to him beforehand I just knew there’d be a lot to do really quickly.”
He said the tendering business is a bit more relaxed. He compares actual fishing to “grunt work.”
Frank Woods’ philosophy for the tendering business is similar to the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare – slow and steady wins the race.
“Now, we try to pace ourselves. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
His contract with Copper River Seafoods starts June 15 and wraps up by the first week of August. Then he will put the Kulukak Queen to work hauling cargo around the Bay till the end of October, and maybe doing a little hunting from it as well.
Then it is back to work. Like many, fishing and tendering still pencils out to be “vacation” from a full time job, which in Woods’ case, is with the Bristol Bay Native Association.
Reach KDLG fisheries reporter Caitlin Tan at email@example.com or 907.843.2240