Charter Captain, Sitka, Alaska
Pacific Parallax is one of the more successful charter operations in Sitka, Alaska. It’s a 42-foot fishing boat that can operate on days other boats stay in the harbor, and its captain and owner, Aaron Bean, is a lifelong Sitka resident who learned the fishing business the hard way, from a half-share newbie on up. Bean, who is savvy enough to have an online and social media presence, worked as a charter captain for other businesses for years before getting Pacific Parallax (pacificparallax.com) in 2012 and running his own charters, which take advantage of the fish-rich waters around Sitka to catch salmon, halibut and more. He told us, “For all the years I have been captain I’ve never had a day wasn’t thankful for my life on the ocean.” Here’s how he got to where he is now.
SEA: How did you get started on the water?
AB: My first memories are of my father and me harvesting herring eggs in Sitka Sound during the spring. When I was 15, my first job was working nights at a fish plant. As I would unload the salmon boats’ catch, I would solicit the boat owners for work. The idea of catching fish for a living was very appealing to me.
Although I didn’t have any job offers as a result of my efforts from the fish plant, I decided to walk the docks on my days off and continue my search. I knew the reputation of most of the local salmon boats, and of course the guys who caught a lot of fish didn’t have any openings, with the exception of one: F/V Reiver, one of Sitka’s salmon highliners at the time. As I asked for the job, I was told the last guy was just fired and I could start immediately. I wasn’t expecting to start so soon, but I couldn’t have been more excited.
How did that first gig go?
My dreams of how easy the money would be were gone before we left the dock for the first time. I spent the first week grinding, priming and painting the 58-foot-by-18- foot superstructure. I remember thinking, “This is hard, but the captain seems really nice.” I couldn’t understand how he had come to gain the nickname Screamer (or how I would later refer to him as “The king of scream”).
I remember thinking about how I couldn’t wait to start making money, because one isn’t paid for the boat work that is done prior to fishing. After all the boat, net and skiff work was done, we finally started to fish. That’s when the work really started. During the season it wasn’t uncommon to work 18-hour days. After the first trip, we arrived back in Sitka, and I went home to tell my mother and father that I decided to quit.
How difficult was that conversation?
I remember how excited my dad was to hear about my first seining trip. I felt horrible about the news I was about to tell him. After telling him all about the long days and loads of fish, I told him I wasn’t sure if I could handle the hard, long hours and getting yelled at all the time. So I told him I didn’t think I was going to go back out.
His grin went away and he asked me how many hours I had put into boat work and preparation. I told him months and months. He followed up by asking me what I had thought I had earned on my first trip as a half share — that’s what a greenhorn deckhand earns his first year. After some quick calculations, it was obvious I would have done all that work for pennies on the hour. My father asked me if I felt my work was worth more than that. He asked me to remember how badly I wanted to be a commercial fisherman. He asked me to remind myself why I left the fish plant. He told me to be honest with myself, and if the answer is still to quit, go ahead and quit.
I went on to justify why I would be right to quit and how unfairly I was treated. My dad quietly sat and listened. After I was done, he asked me when I was supposed to be back at the boat. I told him 0600 the following day. He said, “Your mother and I will support you regardless to what you decide to do.”
I set my alarm for 0530. I could smell coffee brewing. I went out into the living room and saw my dad sitting at the dining room table. There was already a black cup of coffee poured and waiting for me. He said good morning and asked me what my plans were for the day. I told him I was going to go catch some fish.
So the season must have gone well.
A few weeks after I went back to school, I received a call from the captain. He had my settlement ready. I remember trying to figure out how much money I was going to make. Having no idea of what the exact expenses were, and knowing that I was only getting a half share (5 percent), I was counting on about $8,500. I went to the boat and met the captain in the wheelhouse. As we finished talking about my classes and his plans for longlining, he handed me a check for $22,500. I tried not to jump up and down! He said, “You’ll notice I paid you a full share. I really hope you come back next year.” I told him I would. I was hooked, pun intended.
This is where my fishing career started. I continued to fish salmon in the summer, and after high school I asked for a full time job on the boat. I was offered a gray cod fishing job. I took it and made pretty good money. After a few years of crab fishing — before it was cool and on TV — and longlining for black cod and halibut, I decided to step up and get my captain’s license.