Box: Generations on An Alaskan Limit Seiner

Friday, August 27, 1999
Petersburg, Alaska has been known since its founding as the home of good fishermen and fine boats. One of the earliest limitations on the commercial salmon fishery was the limiting of Alaskan seine boats to 58 ft. Over time, the Alaska limit seiner evolved to one of the truly classic fishboats of the world. With its high bulwarks over a plum bow stem and a full body flowing with a clean shear aft to a broad timbered stern, the design provides a stable working platform from which to work the 250-fathom by 450-mesh salmon seine. The main cabin set on the forward half of the deck carries topside controls to give the skipper a clear lookout for jumpers and tidal conditions. Until the 1960s virtually all of the limit seiners were built of the Northwest's fine old growth fir planking on white oak frames. In 1949 Magnus Martens, one of Petersburg's top skippers, approached Sagstad, one of Seattle's top boat builders to have his third fish boat built. Launched in 1950, Pamela Rae longlined halibut and blackcod until 1974 when she wasn't seining salmon. That year Magnus turned 64 and decided to take it easy by just fishing salmon. That same year his 11 year-old grandson Robert Thorstenson Jr. was spending his fifth season on board. The family was now in its third generation in Petersburg and its third generation fishing on the boat. In 1977, at 13 years of age, Robert earned a share on Pamela Rae for the first time. By the time Robert was 19 he was in college preparing for law school and he thought he was fishing his last summers. When Magnus died in an accident on board that summer, Robert was faced with the stark reality of leaving the industry or taking over the boat. Sockeye fever won out. He chose to stay and bought the boat and permit from the family. Becoming a lawyer was forgotten but the law and regulation of the fishery was not. Robert Thorstenson Jr. is today the president of the Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition and is active on a number of boards in the interest of the fishing industry. He still fishes Pamela Rae, putting in 18 or 19 sets on a good day and averaging 40,000 lbs. per day and a million pounds of salmon per year on the fifty year old vessel. Each fall, he fishes Puget Sound and this past summer a bit of bad luck led to the boat sinking. No real damage was done but the engine, a 25-year-old two cycle was ruined. "I couldn't find a replacement and most of the guys in Petersburg are going with Cummins," he explains, "So I chose a N-14 delivering 400 hp at 1800 rpm. The old engine was only 230 hp and had an Allison gear at 3.5:1 turning a three-blade 50x32-in. wheel. On the new engine I went with the new Twin Disc 5114 Deep Case gear at 4.17:1 turning a four-blade 52x43-in. wheel. We kept the same 3.5-in. shaft." In addition to the new engine, Robert had the yard, Fishing Vessel Owners Marine Ways at the Seattle Fisherman's Terminal, take the wood down to the frames and planks on much of the hull'a interior. "We put in new keel bolts, bulkheads and fuel tanks," he says "and we saw every inch of the planks and frames. They are in spectacular shape for a 50 year old boat and should be good for another 30 years more. By that time I'll be ready to quit." Robert's four year old son is named Magnus for his great grandfather. It may just be one day the great-grandson of one of Petersburg's founders will be fishing Alaskan salmon with Pamela Rae on into the fourth generation.
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