In February 1983, two crabbing vessels set out from port in Alaskan waters at the peak of crabbing season. Filled to the brim with crab pots, both ships, the Americus
and the Altair
, were considered state-of-the-art for the industry: each only a few years old, equipped with thousands of dollars' worth of lifesaving equipment. Neither ship returned to port, and none of their 14 crew members was ever seen again. It was the worst commercial fishing accident in America's history.
In Lost at Sea, Patrick Dillon examines how the Americus/Altair disaster is indicative of the problems with American fishing, an industry that annually tops the list of "Most Dangerous Occupations," and what has been done in the tragedy's aftermath. During his research, including a season as a crew member aboard a fishing boat, Dillon encountered a murky sea full of men fiercely opposed to government regulations, an industry that always expects to do business the same way--its own way--and, conversely, an American government that prodded its fishing industry into possibly unsafe practices in order to compete with foreign fishing powers. Dillon interviews dozens of friends, coworkers, and family members of the lost fishermen, and the scenes that describe the small Washington town of Anacortes, which hosted the lost fleet and is almost completely reliant on fishing for livelihood, are touching. In the end, despite years of hearings and probes into the fishing industry, not much has changed, Dillon reports. Every year a certain number of men go out into rough seas, and every year a smaller number of them return home, as the industry remains largely free of regulation. --Tjames Madison
From Publishers Weekly
The Wall Street Journal recently noted that last year "commercial fishing lost its place as the most dangerous occupation." If so, part of the reason must be traced back 15 years to February 14, 1983, when 14 men from the town of Anacortes, Wash., were lost in the Bering Sea. Sailing on the Americus and Altair, two of the most high-tech crabbing vessels of the time, and confident of fairly calm waters, they disappeared without even an SOS. Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and columnist Dillon brings his perceptive journalism skills to reconstructing the lives of the fishermen and their families and motivations?from the need to strike out for more dangerous fishing grounds, because those closer to home were depleted, to simple greed. The residents of Anacortes clearly knew the dangers?an obelisk in the harbor is inscribed with 96 names of fishermen lost over the last 50 years, more than three times the number listed on the memorial to casualties of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Dillon spent time with the families and followed both the subsequent investigation and the efforts to enact and enforce regulations. His prose is more poetic than incisive: At a basketball game at the high school, "the news came in like a draft under the door. When it reached the bleachers, each row stirred in succession, people bent like grass.... They stood, stunned, their faces frozen...trying to conceal their terror." This is a story of individuals, but it is also the story of an old, traditional industry pushed farther and farther offshore by heavy demand from top restaurants paying high prices. Author tour to the Northwest and Alaska.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.