While Boutwell would board a few of the Seattle-based Alaska factory trawlers on that tour around the Aleutian Chain, its broader mission was monitoring the outer perimeter of the aptly-named Doughnut Hole, 4,500 square-miles of unregulated international waters lying in the center of the Bering Sea, beyond the claimed 200-mile offshore Exclusive Economic Zones of the U.S. and Soviet Russia. Upon their rather abrupt eviction from the happy hunting grounds, the unconstrained mainly Asian fleets collected in the Doughnut Hole, the center of transit for the North Pacific’s many migratory fish species, and proceeded with a vengeance to filter every living thing from it. Conservative estimates put the annual plunder at three million tons of commercial fish stocks alone.
As the direct consequence, America’s cocky new factory trawler industry nearly collapsed in it’s infancy, when migratory fish stock projections suddenly went to hell. While Boutwell could do nothing about the dirty work being done in international waters, when the high-seas bandits crossed the line, as they frequently did, well, Boutwell couldn’t do much then, either; the poacher would see the cutter coming by radar 40 miles out, and cut-and-run back into the Hole, occasionally leaving behind sea-sweeping drift nets 20 miles long.
The Doughnut Hole made fisheries management a perilous science. Still, of the planet’s six major commercial fisheries habitats, only the US-controlled North Pacific was functionally productive: able to sustain, albeit marginally, the demands of industry year after year. All other global fishing grounds were considered “endangered” or “threatened”, with native fish populations perilously declining in size and numbers due exclusively to generations of over-fishing – which is what happens when bold captains of fishing boats need to supply mighty captains of industry and commerce, who are busy feeding hungry markets for seafood, where it’s bought by people who need to eat, and no one in the food chain is looking out for the health of the resources. Senegal, for example, may have been concerned for its own EEZ rights, but never could send a white warship to demand a tax from the Japanese and Peruvian and Spanish pirates raping her seas right before their eyes, visible from their shores.
Factory workers - soft parts of the machinery. Not for them is the seafaring life. For two months, their horizon is the view from inside a steel box, humid like a tropical swamp in places, dank and confining in some others, and everywhere LOUD, miserable in degrees. For most, their purpose for being there is purely economic; few make a career of being contractually bound to work at the pleasure of their employers, spending minimum 12 hours daily, every day, standing at their work stations.
Some jobs are better than others, though "better" is determined less by the task at hand, than by the ship one works aboard.
A ship at sea is a nation of 80 to 150 souls (one leviathan employs 300+), whose sense of community spirit is a reflection of company ethics and the captain's personality. Some companies are better than others; most captains are pretty smart, a few are real bastards. But, as bastards tend to have reputations as top- grossers, despite certain hardship, their boats are never short for crew.
Imagine: In slow times, which do not come often, you work 12 hours on- 12 off. But when the tanks are filled, and they almost constantly are, your shift lengthens to 14, 16 hours on the job, day after day after day. Then your captain hits a motherload, fish fall rapidly into the trawls, and the factory is cranking away at full processing capacity, imposing on its workers a mad orgy of laboring called Crazy Eights - eight hours at work, four off, eight on, four off, eight on, four off, eight on, four off, eight on...
The ship's store doesn't sell a lot, but the supply of cigarettes seems infinite!