Ben Eder

Reed personal statement choice A.

-Describe the educational experience - formal or informal - that has had the most significant effect on your life.

I am the oldest son of a father whose profession is commercial fishing. Our family owns and operates two fishing vessels, fishing mainly for dungeness crab and sablefish, also known as black cod, off the West Coast.

From early childhood onward, I have built and maintained equipment and fished with my father, but in the summer before my junior year I first joined the crew for a season fishing black cod.

Two years prior, the season had been nine days long, the year before it had been seven, and this year we would have five days to catch as many pounds of black cod as possible. In these five days, my family would make a full one half of our annual income, as would our crew, each of whom had a family depending upon our success and the decisions made by my father. Needless to say, there was a great deal of pressure to perform and produce. I was honored to be part of this team of seasoned fisherman carefully chosen by my dad to fill each position necessary to the operation.

Among these men was a man named Roger Fry who worked the season every year. He had a great effect on me and taught me much about motivation and self improvement. Roger had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade but was better educated that most college graduates I have met. He read in all of his spare time, solely for the purpose of gaining knowledge and improving himself. I admire and aspire to such unquestioning motivation without monetary or social reward. I would also like to recommend him as a professor of military history at Reed. My interactions and conversations with Roger were an integral part of my experience and education.

During that five day season the boat did not rest, nor did my dad, for more than an hour or two every fifty, while somebody else drove the boat. The crew was on a rotation. One of us would be sleeping at all times, and the rest would be working. In the five hours we had off to sleep, we were also responsible for feeding ourselves and usually performing some mechanical maintenance or miscellaneous labor. The rest of our waking hours were spent working to our limits on the back deck, pulling gear, landing fish, setting gear, repairing broken traps, splicing line, sorting fish, and preparing bait. I learned many practical skills and techniques, but more importantly, I was educated on just how far the human body could be pushed. I also learned what was possible with teamwork and cooperation. Having worked together in the weeks of preparation time for the season, the crew was already very well acquainted. After only a matter of hours we were a finely tuned machine of five. Rank and responsibilities having long been established, no quarrels resulted from physical and psychological fatigue. Since everyone knew the process and was aware of current situations, verbal communication was minimal, with an expressive look being much more efficient amidst the loud hum of the hydraulics and grumbling of the main engine.

On one occasion as we were setting gear, a precise activity in which we dump black cod traps overboard attached to a ground line in a location where fish reside, a pot got hung up on the boat. The man closest by responded immediately as tension built in the ground line. In a matter of seconds something would break. He hung suspended over the rail of the boat. Hanging over the violent seas, he drew his Victornox knife from his knife belt and cut the pot free, sacrificing several hundred dollars worth of equipment and a dozen man hours for the sake of safety and efficiency. As he did this, no one was in his position, so I rotated from mine and continued work. The man preparing bait was slightly ahead and rushed forward to fill my position. We had not missed a beat, and when Roscoe, the man who had cut the pot pulled himself back onto the boat, he rotated to the position of preparing bait which was less intense and would give him a chance to catch his breath. During all this not a word was spoken except to inform the captain, my father, of a possible developing situation.

As I labored away in my respective positions, I knew that if I slacked off or lost efficiency that no one would give me a hard time or tease me, but I would not personally tolerate it. I knew that the success of the entire season depended upon me as it did upon every other member of the crew. I knew that if focus was lost or my end of the work was not kept up, bad things could result. People could get hurt or even lose their lives. “It only takes one mistake to get an ‘F’ for the day,” the seaman’s saying went.

We started the season with moderate yields in our black cod traps. My dad was not fazed and just reacted the best he knew how based on the conditions he saw before him and the historical data he kept. Soon his years of experience paid off, and we were catching unprecedented numbers of fish. He found the product and we, the crew, moved the gear and fish faster than I previously believed to be physically possible. By the end of the five days we had filled the boat to over capacity three times, and in the process set a fish plant record for the largest black cod delivery in their twenty-five year history. Many other very qualified captains with experienced crews had made only one or two trips and had not been nearly as fortunate. We were called “lucky” and “in the right place at the right time,” but I knew otherwise. Hard work, experience, preparation, teamwork, a ruthless competitive spirit, and intense focus had paid off in the highest catch on the Washington, Oregon, or California coast.

I have learned many facts and concepts in my years of schooling, many truths in my years of contemplation and many rules in my years of social interactions, but no one event has compared to what I learned during the 1996 black cod season. From that I learned what men are capable of, the power of cooperation, and what motivates different people.