Sleepy Eye fishermen help with Alaska boat cleanup efforts

BRISTOL BAY, Alaska – Two rural Sleepy Eye fishermen were part of a month-long, multi-vessel effort to aid and salvage an overturned and partially submerged fishing vessel near the mouth of Igushik River, near Dillingham.

Several fishing ships and a barge responded as pollution response vessels to the mishap, including the Bulls Eye, owned by the Roger Rogotzke of rural Sleepy Eye.

The Rogotzkes owns several fishing vessels and have been fishing Bristol Bay for Pacific salmon for decades. But this year, their fishing season ended much differently than previous years, as they took part in pollution response efforts to clean up after the accident.

At 6:55 a.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard responded to a “mayday” call it received from a crew member on the 78-foot fishing vessel Lone Star. The vessel was in the Igushik River mouth, Nushagak Bay, 30 river miles from Dillingham, Alaska.

Good Samaritans in a nearby vessel were first on the scene, rescuing four fishermen and a dog in good condition, according to an Anchorage, Alaska news report.

The vessel’s crew reported to the Coast Guard that its anchor line struck the vessel’s transducer (signal-receiving device), while they were anchoring the vessel, damaging the hull.

The changing tide reportedly swung the anchored ship into its anchor chain, which caught the transducer and coolant lines, pulling them loose and creating a hole in the ship’s steel hull. The vessel began taking on water and capsized in 18 feet of water, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC).

The vessel’s crew reported it was carrying 35,000 pounds of fish, 13,750 gallons of diesel fuel and 300 gallons of hydraulic fluid and gasoline at the time of the sinking.

On July 5, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) issued an emergency order closing area commercial and set gill net fishing until fuel recovery operations are completed and no oil sheen was observed.

The Rogotzkes were among the fishing vessels involved in the recovery and cleanup operation.

Fishing vessels placed lines out to stabilize the Lone Star and a barge used to transfer its cargo including remaining fuel from the partially submerged vessel.

It is an area rich with wildlife. The Igushik River supports all species of Pacific salmon. Waterfowl that nest along its shorelines include Steller (Northern) sea lions, humpback whales and Steller’s eiders (sea ducks), which are Endangered Species Act-listed species, according to the ADEC.

Heavy waves caused by high winds and strong river currents complicated the task of standing by the ship salvage operation day and night for several weeks, according to Roger Rogotzke. He and his family sell seafood and seafood products, including fresh, Alaska salmon.

“The wind moved the ship at times, delaying efforts to pump fuel off the ship,” Rogotzke said. “But we got to put our training to use. We put a boom (line) out that is covered with an oil absorbent material, plus a tow hook in the boom, collecting any fuel in the water. It’s tricky with huge, 22-foot tides to deal with.”

Rogotzke, who teaches high school special education and coaches varsity track and eighth-grade boys basketball at Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) Schools, said salmon fishing is not for everyone.

“You need a patient and understanding wife,” he said. “When the wind blows, you can really take a butt kicking (rocking on big waves on a fishing vessel).”

Lone Star hired oil response organization Alaska Chadux to mitigate pollution caused by the vessel. The ship’s owner also hired a company to remove the ship from the river. The vessel’s captain vowed to repair and sail it again, even if it was determined to be a total loss.

Tom Rogotzke of Hutchinson, Roger’s son, said the season’s Bristol Bay Sockeye salmon fishing forecast was predicted to be a run of 26.03 million salmon and a predicted catch of 17.53 million fish.

“That’s 33 percent lower than an average run of 39.06 million for the past decade,” Rogotzke said. “But Dad, Dave, Jay and I were in the right river in the bay, above the bay average in the Nushagak River. The bay has five river systems.”

Brothers Roger and Dave Rogotzke began fishing salmon in 1982. Roger’s son Tom started fishing in 2000 and his younger brother Jay began in 2009.

“The best years were in the mid 1980s to the early 1990s. The worst years were in the early 2000s when prices dipped due to poor catches and introduction of large amounts of farmed salmon to the market,” Tom Rogotzke said. “The wild Alaska salmon market rebounded in recent years, reflected by better prices and demand for wild salmon.”

He said Bristol Bay weather was challenging this year with typical wind speeds of 20 to 40 mph.

“The weather changes rapidly out on the bay. The sea can be flat, then have eight-foot swells within an hour,” Rogotzke said.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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