Posted by: tlnemethy | August 13, 2012

Naknek Day 8

When I shipped off from Sitka there was no advance warning like when one might trade jobs normally. I basically interviewed with the company at 3:00 and was told I would have my answer soon enough.  It was 6:32 and I was officially looking at a confirmation email for my hire and a plane ticket in my email. Let’s just say though, that the only advice I got for this job was spoken a few weeks back when I casually mentioned it to my mother. She told me that I would most likely need to stay away from machinery so I didn’t accidentally lose a hand. I filed it away in the back of my mind, but I apparently sent it too far into the corner.

I got my hand sucked into the conveyor belt today. I work at the junction between the machine belt that feeds the freshly boned fish to the belt that we do final cuts and de-boning on. The first belt drops the fillet onto the second over a tiny gap, maybe two centimeters wide, but just the perfect size to get the trailing edge of a fillet sucked into. We try to rescue the fillets from the chewing of the belts, salvaging what we can before the fillet has to be thrown away completely. I closed my hand around the wide end of the salmon and pulled, but the tips of my gloves must have caught up on the teeth of the belt because I felt my hand being pulled quite rapidly and forcefully where I knew they should not be going. I jerked backwards, completely forgetting about the salmon in efforts to save myself.

I don’t remember what I thought in that moment, but I sure as hell flashed back to the words of my mother. It was reminiscent of A Christmas Story, “you’ll shoot your eye out kid,” but instead of my eye I was thinking about coming out of Alaska a whole lot lighter. I watched the belt chew up two of my three sets of gloves, flapping the layers of latex and cloth against the belt like a frantic wave. I looked at my stripped hand, carefully examining it for anything more than the extreme pinch I’d very clearly noticed as the teeth gripped it. Mind you all of the life flashing before my eyes up to the examination lasted a mere five seconds, but it seemed like I understood and noticed more in those instances than I did any other five seconds of my life.

I could see the belt getting hung up on my gloves so I reached back in to pull them free, only to have my hands knocked away by my supervisor, a guy probably younger than me. He looked at me as he wiggled the gloves back and forth out of the jaws of the belts saying, “Girl, I just about pissed myself. Stay out of the machinery. I don‘t want to see that shit go down.” I laughed, shook my hand awkwardly and shoved it instantly into the maw of the machine to dislodge the massive clog that had appeared while I was busy. My supervisor gave me the stink eye and he now roams by my machine every few minutes to make sure I don’t do anything detrimental to my health.


  1. Good Morning from Anchorage, AK!! I just read your story on the MTU “parentnet” newsletter. My son is heading back to MTU for his sophomore year at the end of the month.
    I’ll have to backtrack and read some more of your blog. I packed fish through my college career (UAA), although, I had a pretty cushy gig at a plant in Anchorage, and I was promoted to frozen crew foreman pretty quickly (end of first season). My older son also packed fish for 2 seasons, he also worked in an Anchorage plant.
    You’ll have my e-mail so if you want to get in touch, if you are passing through Anchorage, feel free to send me an e-mail and I’ll send you our phone number.
    Take Care!

    • Everyone told me not to go to the fish processing plant, but honestly even though I didn’t leave in one piece I would LOVE to go back. I only wish I’d worked there every summer of my college experience like you had done. Who knows, I might be back anyways. Once you spend such extreme amounts of time dealing with fish you really start to crave it like an addiction.

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