December 11, 2019

Meet the American Seafoods Factory Manager With A Big Fish Story


Matilda Jeung holds a large red fish by the gills on her fishing boat

The seasickness caught Matilda Jeung by surprise. She was a brand new processor with American Seafoods, on her first trip from Seattle to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The route takes a few days when traveled by sea, and she was so nauseous she couldn’t get out of bed.

“I was going to quit, it was that bad,” Matilda said. “I wasn’t eating. And it wasn’t even rough waters!”

She stuck it out. The seasickness passed right before they docked, and it never returned. Matilda was ready for a life at sea – on season and off.

On-season, Matilda is an assistant factory manager aboard the Ocean Rover, a boat catching Wild Alaska Pollock in the Bering Sea and Wild Pacific Whiting in the Pacific Northwest. She has eyes on every part of the ship’s production: how many fish are on board, what products are running, the status of processes like fillet and surimi production, the amount of cargo hold, and quality control updates.

It’s a lot of work, but for Matilda, it’s also a family affair. Two other members of the Rover crew are her relatives – her husband and her brother. But other crewmembers have grown to feel like family too.

Seasons with American Seafoods somehow aren’t enough time on the water for her. During breaks, she and her husband take their own boats out for deep sea fishing. They plan vacations around a type of fish they want to catch, like swordfish, tuna, or roosterfish.

She estimates their biggest catch was a swordfish that weighed around 200 lbs.

“People are like, how do you stay out there fishing, and then the first thing you do is come home and fish?” she said. “But I live the perfect life to be able to do that.”

She didn’t have this life in mind 27 years ago, when she started college on a scholarship to study music. Her brother worked for American Seafoods and suggested joining for a summer to save up money for books. She already knew she liked fishing, and one season was enough to get her hooked.

Now Matilda is the one helping newcomers get their sea legs. She’s noticed different challenges for different generations of crewmembers – seasickness doesn’t change, and neither does homesickness, but now she sees newbies struggle to go without constant internet access.

“I tell them, I promise you, if you make it through that season you’re going to have that feeling of euphoria,” she said. “They call me Mama. I love it, and that’s what keeps me fishing. I love the people I work with. All of us together make things work.”

Who’s On Board is a series profiling the hardworking crew members on the six catcher/processor ships operated by American Seafoods. Check back soon for more!

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