A Fun Night at Westward Seafoods

August 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Alfonso EJ and Alex In Dutch Harbor Alaska

The Westward Seafoods Mafia

    The time I spent in Dutch Harbor, Alaska last year was good and bad. The good was that I met some great people and got to see some wildlife and of course the bad was that I worked for Westward Seafoods while I was there. A year ago I was so pissed off about what I went through and what I saw in that seafood processing plant that I didn’t post much about the good times I had. The good times were spent checking out bald eagles, climbing hills to take photos and checking out the town of Unalaska. There were also a few good times that took place in my shitty bunkhouse. The photos for this post were taken on one of my last nights on the island. It was just one of those nights where, after working for 12 hours, one of my roommates and a couple other friends hung out for a few hours, talking about God knows what but having fun the entire time.

    Alfonso is on the left, flipping me off. I forget exactly why, but whatever the reason was, it sure seemed to be funny. We were all poor in Dutch Harbor and alcohol is expensive so of course it makes sense that lots of people bought lots of alcohol up there. Nothing helps a poor person cope with a shitty job and lack of money like spending what you have on booze. Those of you that know me know that I don’t drink beer so there may or may not be a bottle of vodka just outside the frame. I may or may not have paid $30 for that fucking bottle.

Alfonso EJ and Alex Fist Bump In Dutch Harbor Alaska

Group Fist Bump

    So, drinks start flowing, stories get told and things progress from flipping each other off to fist bumps. The other two guys in the photo standing next to Alfonso are Alex and E.J. I worked with E.J. in “D” section on the Surimi side of Westward Seafoods and I met Alex, probably through E.J. In wanting to maintain proper fist bump etiquette, I bumped with my right hand and held the camera with my left. Check out Alfonso being too cool for school by bumping with his left hand!

Alex Showing His Tattoos In Dutch Harbor Alaska

Showing Off Tattoos

    Tattoos and scars will inevitably show up and be compared amongst a crowd like this. I have three tattoos, none of which have ever made an appearance on my blog. I got them all whilst serving in The Navy in the early nineties. I have a few scars too but most of them have to do with inline skating.

Rob Hurlbut Dutch Harbor Alaska Westward Seafoods

Good People

    Pleasant nights like this didn’t happen very often during the three months I was in Alaska. We worked 12-18 hours a day every day of the week so sleep was the Holy Grail of free time up there. Being able to get four friends in a room at the same time for reasons other than sleep only happened during meals and rare nights like this one. I remember asking for a cigarette for this shot. I don’t smoke but I thought it would look cool for the shot we were trying to compose. The problem was that the smoke was killing me so of course I’m making a funny face in a photo that I otherwise think is pretty neat. Anyway, three or four days later I was off the island and headed back to San Diego. Six months after that, I moved back to Denver, ending my eight year vacation in sunny California. Cheers!

Unalaska Memorial Park

September 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Unalaska Memorial Park Flags

Unalaska Memorial Park and Iliuliuk Bay

    Unalaska Memorial Park was set up in 1992 and I had the privilege of visiting the site in early 2013. As a veteran of the United States Navy it’s always a treat for me to see parks and memorials like this because it is very important not to forget that there are people that have given their time and their lives whilst serving in the military. The island of Unalaska and Dutch Harbor were home to the military during World War II and remnants of the military presence remain to this day. Concrete bunkers and pillboxes are all over the island. In the photo above you can see Iliuliuk Bay in the background, the propeller of the USS Northwestern on the right and a concrete pillbox on the left.

Unalaska Memorial Park Bunker

View From Inside A WWII Concrete Bunker

    Above is the view from inside the pillbox that was visible on the left of the first photo. These were observation bunkers where military personnel would stand watch and be on the lookout for Japanese planes. I was in Unalaska from January through early April of 2013 and while it was not bitter cold, it was no picnic. I can only imagine what it was like to be out in an unheated concrete structure like this in the dead of night while a world war was raging. I’m sure there was quite a lot a pressure to stand a vigilant watch while trying to stay warm at the same time.

Unalaska Memorial Park Flags

Unalaska Memorial Park and Cemetery

    The park does seem to have suffered from the ravages of Alaskan winters during its 20 year existence. Not all the flags are raised all the time and one of the flag poles has broken off completely. It’s amazing how salt from the ocean and the cold wind can absolutely destroy man-made objects. Even the concrete base looks like it was recovered from the wreck of the Titanic! In the background is the Unalaska cemetery.

Unalaska Memorial Park Bering Sea Patrol

Bering Sea Patrol Monument

    If you can believe it, Unalaska is not always covered in snow. Unfortunately, I left just as spring was arriving so every one of my photos shows the place looking like a winter wonderland. In the spring and summer, Unalaska goes through the same transformation that the lower 48 states go through. The grass turns green and you don’t have to walk around with a jacket and beanie on all the time. If you are interested in seeing more of what Unalaska looks like, be sure to check out my other posts. Cheers!

Bald Eagles In Dutch Harbor Alaska

May 19, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

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Bald Eagles In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    I spent the first three months of 2013 in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, working for Westward Seafoods. The bald eagles that hung around the compound where I lived were the one bit of wildlife solace that kept me from losing my mind while I was there. Those of you that travel through or live in the downtown area of any city have seen pigeons all over the fucking place, right? The bald eagles of Dutch Harbor fill that role. The fishing and crabbing industry has, in my opinion allowed these flight capable dinosaurs to flourish on an island in the Bering Sea.

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A Bald Eagle Calls For Dinner

    In the photo above you can see just how close these bald eagles were to where I lived. For whatever reason, I decided to give up San Diego for Alaska. Honestly, it was because I had taken San Diego for granted. I didn’t know it at the time, but I did. San Diego has the best weather on Earth and that’s why I moved here from Denver back in 2006. I forgot that fact but was reminded about it while I was in Alaska.

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Eagles Hanging Out In Dutch Harbor

    Anyway, I got to see more bald eagles in person on my doorstep than most people see in their entire lives. They were everywhere all the time so I took a lot of pictures. They were really close; close enough to make me think that if I tried to pet them they would rake their velociraptor talons across my face and eat my eyeballs for dinner.

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Bald Eagle Shit

    I cannot, in good conscience talk about bald eagles without talking about how they poop all over the place. They don’t shit like a dog or a cat or even other feathered friends. They shit like malicious teenagers that just had their internet privileges taken away. You can see in the photo above that they project their poop like Fox News projects their news.

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Popeye, The Bald Eagle

    There was one eagle in particular that I was easily able to pick out from the crowd and that was one that everyone called, Popeye. There is something wrong with his right eye; it’s squinty. Normally, a bald eagle can stare at you with both eyes at the same time, with depth perception that I can only imagine puts ours to shame. The fellow in the photo above, with his defective eye was constantly swinging his head around to see what was going on.

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Popeye IS A Dutch Harbor, Alaska Institution

    Despite his defective eye, Popeye the Bald Eagle is a very imposing figure. His talons and beak, especially at close range, look like they could cut through sheet metal. I walked by him hundreds of times while I was there and even fed him a few times.

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Alfonso Venegas With A Bald Eagle

    The photo above is just an example of how close we were to these bald eagles. They really were all around the Westward Seafoods compound and were a part of our daily lives.

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Westward Seafoods Processing Plant and A Bald Eagle

    By this time I’m sure you’ve noticed that all the photos in this post have the eagles perched in a very human world. That is on purpose because they are, after 3 months, the best photos of the birds I managed to get. I’d never been this close to bald eagles before so having them so close to where I lived was amazing for me. I did some hiking and took some wild shots of these birds but at the end of the day I had no zoomed in shots that could even compare to what I’ve presented here. Every shot in this post was made with an 8mm fisheye lens at a distance of three or so feet. Yeah, the lens my awesome parents gave to me a year and a half ago has become my permanent accessory. Cheers!

Employment at Westward Seafoods in Dutch Harbor Alaska

May 17, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

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Crab Pots At Night In Dutch Harbor Alaska

    Crab is a big part of Westward Seafoods bottom line so crab pots take up a lot of real estate on their Dutch Harbor, Alaska compound. At this point, we all know that I did not have a good experience whilst working for Westward Seafoods and I recommend that you do not work for Westward Seafoods, but up to this point, I haven’t mentioned crabs or what it takes to get them to your plate.

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Crab Pots

    The way the pots work is fairly simple and has to do with direction of travel, the same way some carnivorous plants trap insects. Basically, the door swings one way & not the other so after a crab shoves its way into a trap, it can’t shove its way back out.

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Westward Seafoods Employee Meals At Their Earliest Stage

    I suspect that Westward Seafoods rents or stores, for a fee the crab pots that crabbers use to catch their prey. In all sincerity I actually think that Westward lets the crabbers use their pots for free in exchange for a guarantee that any crab caught will be sold to Westward Seafoods, no matter what the quality, size species. I was there and personally had to process crab after the season was over so I believe that Westward Seafoods buys crab bought from black market, pirate vessels and lures them into Dutch Harbor by letting them use their crab pots.

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The Moon, A Bald Eagle and Crab Pots in Dutch Harbor

    The unfortunate thing is that photography is prohibited inside the building of the Westward Seafoods compound. There are no trade secrets or proprietary equipment that would be revealed but the working conditions of the seafood processors would be. To say the conditions are dangerous is a given be to but to say they actually break the law is something I’m saying, based on my three month stint working there. I got more sleep, more free time, more medical benefits and more pay whilst in the military in the mid 1990’s so that’s my basis for comparison.

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Westward Seafoods Crab Pots in Dutch Harbor

    There are two sides to the Westward Seafoods plant. One side processes cod and crab and the other processes pollock into a product called surimi. Surimi is imitation crab meat. It is the hot dog of seafood and I had the displeasure of working on that side of the plant. Let me very be clear about what I say next: The sirimi at Westward Seafoods is poisonous because it is laden with mercury. Not the planet, the heavy metal that’s also known as quicksilver and used in thermometers and barometers. The final stage of surimi processing is to run the pollock meat through a metal detector. Any meat that trips the detector has a level of mercury in it that is illegal to be sold, so it is fed to employees of Westward Seafoods. You heard it here first people. The fish that gets fed to employees is so full of mercury that it cannot legally be sold in the United States of America. The pollock that Westward employees eat has more metal in it than a tooth filling and the baked rexsole, the other fish entree that is served was scooped up off the floor, nothing more than an unwanted byproduct of the processing and producing of surimi. Cheers!

Rob Hurlbut In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

May 10, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

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Rob Hurlbut In The Grand Aleutian Hotel

    As a photographer, I like to stay behind the lens. Self portraits have never been my forte and having another person take my photo is something that just doesn’t happen very often. So, in order to not be selfish, to help this blog become more personal and reflect the real me this is a post that will feature self portraits of me, Rob Hurlbut. The photo above was taken a month ago on my last day in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

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Rob Hurlbut With A Bald Eagle

    I spent the first three months of 2013 in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which is where all the photos in this post were taken. It was fun being in Alaska and it was fun to see bald eagles hanging around like pigeons at a bus stop. I’d never seen an eagle in person, let alone striking distance to my face before. They are very large birds and their talons are as big as my hands. They perched themselves on the railing of the bunkhouse I was living in so when I walked by them, they were less than three feet away and staring me right in the eye. From that distance, you can see the dinosaur lineage of bald eagles staring you right in the face.

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Rob Hurlbut Inside A WWII Bunker

    On Dutch Harbor, there are several WWII observation bunkers. These are concrete structures and they are very claustrophobic. One can only imagine what it must have been like to be stationed in Alaska and standing watch, looking for Japanese planes or the Imperial Japanese Navy. As you can see in the photo above, they are not tall enough to stand up in, the floor is frozen tundra and for some reason I was wearing white socks with black shoes. I apologize for that.

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Rob Hurlbut On The Alaskan Tundra

    I did a lot of hiking whilst in Dutch Harbor. Hiking through snow is not the easiest thing in the world to do, nor is photographing snow. Personally, I hadn’t set foot in a snow drift for seven years, not since I left Denver for the sunny shores of San Diego back in 2006. In my glorified opinion the snow and cold suck, so my time in Alaska made me realize I had been taking the warm California sun for granted and that in all probability, Alaska would have been better appreciated by me had I visited in the summer.

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Rob Hurlbut In Westward Seafoods Bunkhouse

    Any post I do that talks about Dutch Harbor or Alaska must include a stab at the company I was working for at the time, Westward Seafoods. It was a terrible experience that I have touched on in two previous posts. The first is titled, Do Not Wok For Westward Seafoods In Dutch Harbor, Alaska and the other is titled, Working For Westward Seafoods In Dutch Harbor, Alaska. They are worth reading and will place some context around the photo above. 18 hour days, racism, mercury laden food and bedbugs were on my mind when I took the self portrait you see above. Read the posts and do not work for Westward Seafoods.

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Rob Hurlbut Near The Bering Sea In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    Dutch Harbor is in the background, water from the Bering Sea is right behind me and for the third time in one post, a beanie is on my head. It was really cold in Alaska so I didn’t cut my hair and I always wore some form of skull cap. Truth be told, I still haven’t cut my hair even after being back in San Diego for a couple weeks. I’m pushing 40 now so growing out my hair could be a combination of my last hurrah and a midlife crisis. Either way, the response from those that have seen me in person has been positive so I think I’ll just keep on growing it for now.

    So there you have it, an honest post from me with self portrait photos. I won’t lie, none of these photos were intended for public consumption but I really do want to open up and use this blog as a better window into who I am, what I do and where I’ve been. Cheers!

Working for Westward Seafoods in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

May 7, 2013 by · 19 Comments 

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Bald Eagles At Westward Seafoods In Dutch Harbor Alaska

    Westward Seafoods in Dutch Harbor, Alaska is a throwback to a time when human rights, environmental awareness and racism were running rampant or had never been heard of before. It is a place that is horrible to work for and should be shut down. I worked for Westward Seafoods from January until April of 2013 and I am still piecing together the shattered remnants of my psyche and recovering from physical damage that has not been encountered by an employee in the United States of America since the late 1800’s. The culture of Westward Seafoods is comically racist and the isolated location of Dutch Harbor is used as leverage to instill fear in the employees. After bringing people to Dutch Harbor, Westward lies to employees by saying the only way to leave the island without paying for a $1000 plane ticket is by getting laid off after working the entire season. They say that if you get fired, you will be cast adrift in Dutch Harbor. That is a lie. Alaska State Troopers and the Unalaska police require the seafood companies to fly terminated employees off the island. Westward Seafoods uses the implication of homelessness on an island on the southern fringes of the Bering Sea to force the full cooperation of their employees. The photo above is of bald eagles hanging out on the railing of my bunkhouse, with the plant and harbor in the background. I’m just getting started, so let’s move on, shall we?

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Tom Madsen Airport in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska

    Employees of Westward Seafoods are brought to the island on a prop driven, puddle jumping plane. The shot above was taken as I left the island but the Saab plane was the same type that flew me into what was to be my prison for the next three months. Make no mistake; you are a prisoner on Dutch Harbor.

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Cell Phone Towers In Unalaska

    The prison situation on Dutch Harbor starts with a lack of communication. There is cell service on the island but it’s not service that you can bring with you from the continental United States. Once there you will have to pay for a new phone and a new cell phone plan that is specific to the island. Other than that, you have to use payphones to communicate with the outside world. This leads me to my next point and that is communication within Westward Seafoods itself.

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Westward Seafoods Bunkhouse In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    While you are working for Westwards Seafoods, they put you up in a bunkhouse and give you three meals a day. Above is the bunkhouse I lived in. The bed in the foreground was mine. This was only one half of the room. The other half had two more beds and a bathroom. So yes, five people lived here. You will notice there are no chairs or tables and there is no refrigerator or microwave. You are not allowed to bring food back from the galley, so if you happen to take a $20 round trip taxi ride to the island’s only grocery store, you have to buy food that does not need to be refrigerated and that does not need to be cooked. Imagine that for a second. Pretend the place where you live does not have a refrigerator, microwave or stove. After that, imagine that bedbugs infested your building and the company doesn’t tell you about it. I’m not kidding; there was a bedbug infestation that took place in February of 2013 at the Westward Seafoods plant. There is simply no dissemination about information like this at the plant. Knowledge and information are power so Westward does everything they can to keep employees in the dark.

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Westward Seafoods Dutch Harbor Processing Plant

    The photo above shows the extent of your world whilst working at Westward Seafoods. I was standing on the porch of my bunkhouse when I took the photo and in it you can see the two other bunkhouses in the foreground, the galley on the middle left and the buildings of the actual plant in the background. That’s it people.

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Dutch Harbor & Westward Seafoods Processing Plant

    Above you can see the entire Westward Seafoods prison compound as it looked one morning in February 2013. In all honesty, this post has not even scratched the surface of the working conditions, the racism or the mercury laden food that must be dealt with as a condition of working there. If you try to contact them via their website, they only have links for recruitment or sales. That should tell you everything. If, for example you had evidence of them selling or serving mercury laden Pollock, purchasing opillio crab from pirates or a working environment that is outside of OSHA standards, there is no way to let the company know. As if they didn’t already know.

    Let me put it another way; company policy is not to administer first aid to an injury. If your finger gets loped of in one of their machines, you have to tell the lead of your section that your finger got loped off and only then can you seek medical attention. I’m not kidding. There is a first aid station that has no nurses or any doctors that require you to tell one specific person that you are injured BEFORE you can receive Boy Scout treatment for your injury. If you walk from your section to the first aid station with an amputated finger before you tell your lead, you will be refused medical aid. Anyway, Do not work for Westward Seafoods, I implore you. The basic math shows that, after taxes I brought home $5.20 per hour. No one has worked 12 to 18 hours a day for $5.20 an hour since the stone age. Need I say more? Yes, I should and will say more in my next post. My next post will talk specifically about the racist culture, lack of medical personnel, buying black market fish & crab and the mercury laden food that is fed to employees. In the meantime do some research and see that I’m not alone or making this up. Cheers!

Photography In Dutch Harbor Alaska

May 4, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

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Rob Hurlbut In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    After spending three months in Dutch Harbor Alaska working for Westward Seafoods, I have a lot to say and I have many photos to show. Depending on what mood I’m in, what I have to say will either be about the terrible time I had working at Westward Seafoods or about the great time I had exploring Dutch Harbor. I’m in a great mood right now, so aside from saying that you should not work for Westward Seafoods at their racist, unsafe plant I’ll leave the issue for other posts. THIS post will be about the photographic opportunities that Dutch Harbor has to offer. The photo above is a 10 second exposure with me flashing a light on my face three times at three slightly different positions, that’s why you see my pretty face in the middle of Dutch Harbor.

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Rob Hurlbut Uncropped In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    Above is the uncropped version of the first photo in the post. Dutch Harbor has no trees so it looks like someone shaved off the portion of the Rocky Mountains that is above the tree line & dropped it in the Bering Sea. There is some wildlife on the island in the form of waterfowl, foxes and especially bald eagles. The rest of the wildlife wonders are found under the sea just as the fauna are found under the snow.

Unalaska Dutch Harbor At Night

Unalaska at Night

    As evidenced by the constellations in the photo above, this is the north side of Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska. Even after spending three months there I still don’t know what or where Dutch Harbor is, relative to Unalaska. I think Unalaska is the name of the town, while Dutch Harbor is a geographic feature of the island on which the town is located but I really don’t know for sure. Anyway, from the Westward Seafoods plant where I was working, the area below is where people went when they “went into town.” This area has a library pool, recreation center and a very old Russian Orthodox church, visible in the lower center of the frame. To the south, on the other side of the mountain I was standing on when I took this photo is the airport, a grocery store, a bar and a liquor store. Guess which side of the island was more popular?

Russian Orthodox Church in Unalaska Dutch Harbor Alaska

Russian Orthodox Church In Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    Above we see the Russian Orthodox Church that is visible in the previous photo as well as the mountain I was standing on for that particular night shot. The far right of the photo was my perch for the previous shot and the left of the photo, obviously out of frame is the harbor.

Do not work for Westward Seafoods in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

April 24, 2013 by · 19 Comments 

Rob Hurlbut leaving Dutch Harbor, Alaska and the employ of Westward Seafoods.

Rob Hurlbut Leaves Westward Seafoods Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last 3 months. I’ll tell you right now that I didn’t want to think a lot but what I was doing and where I was didn’t leave me with much of anything else to do. I just got back from a three month stint working for Westward Seafoods Inc. in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. It was not a good experience and I am struggling with how I’m going to relate my experience with to the world. Of course I have photos but what I went through can’t be adequately shown or expressed with photography. I had mental and physical degradation happen in way that should be investigated as criminal wrongdoing because the methods, manners and culture of Westward Seafoods Inc. are immoral, rude and racist. For me, leaving Dutch Harbor and the employ of Westward Seafoods was not the end of a job; it was fleeing the scene of a crime. Westward uses their isolated location to scare and bully their employees. They use the high cost of airfare out of Dutch Harbor as leverage against employees so they will give their full cooperation to any task they are asked to do. Employees of Westward Seafoods do this as the company buys fish and crab that have been caught by pirates in a way that is not sustainable, legal or ethical. I have so many more things to say and so many more photos to show that I’m not quite sure where to begin or how to end. This post is my way of placing the world on notice, I suppose. The photo above was taken on a flight out of Alaska, heading to the lower 48. I was watching the sunrise as I pondered what to do next and what I wanted to say about my Alaska experience. So, be aware; more posts and photos are coming.