Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Marine Refrigeration Training


Since 2005, MAP, Doug Cannon and Integrated Marine Systems (IMS) have trained more than 300 Alaska fishermen in the basics of marine refrigeration. Photo courtesy of Marine Refrigeration Solutions.

Fishermen and processors continue to work together to improve the quality of their product. As fishermen install refrigeration equipment on vessels of all sizes, the need for educational opportunities to learn about the equipment is growing.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) has highlighted this need for Marine Refrigeration training for fishermen and has sponsored a one-day informational class with live demonstrations throughout Alaska and Washington. Since 2005, MAP, Doug Cannon and Integrated Marine Systems (IMS) have trained more than 300 Alaska fishermen in the basics of marine refrigeration.

Doug Cannon, whose company Marine Refrigeration Solutions provides project management and training for marine refrigeration installation and operations, saw the need for a more extensive program after he spent years fielding calls at odd hours from frantic fishermen on the grounds.

"After years of technical service and answering the phone at 2 a.m. it seemed logical to provide a class that would put the information at the fisherman's fingertips," Cannon said. "Teaching the skills that are needed to maintain and troubleshoot their systems can save a boat from costly downtime and thus drastically reduce the 2 a.m. phone calls.

"The goal is that they have the information to understand the problem so that when they do call we can get the boat up and running faster and more efficiently."

Marine Refrigeration Solutions has stepped into the void by offering classes in marine hubs around Alaska and Washington.

Cannon's 26-year background has helped him develop a certification class and has set an industry standard of system operation. The three-day workshops he teaches are hands-on, allowing vessel owners, engineers and crew the chance to gain in-depth knowledge of their systems. The UAF, SAVEC and the BBEDC are sponsoring this more intensive class in March for their Watershed Residents continuing education to promote fish quality in Bristol Bay.

MAP agent Gabe Dunham points out the business advantages of knowing your system.

"Every mechanical device has a service interval and a service life," he says. Dunham shares that service life is usually tied to the regularity and competency with which the service interval schedule is maintained. "By knowing what needs to be serviced on a refrigeration system and when it needs attention, owners can extend the service life of a very expensive piece of equipment."

Similarly, educated operators can save money by knowing what parts of a system are serviceable by the operator, and what parts should be left to the able hands of a technician.

There are also decreased start-up costs. Some applications require, for example, an RSW system to be dormant for long periods of time, necessitating a specific storage and start-up procedure. If an operator has been trained to perform this procedure, he may be able to save money by doing these steps himself.

Also, Dunham says, it is virtually inevitable that every mechanical thing will at some point require repair. "The difference is under what circumstances an operator has to deal with the repair," he says. "Trying to diagnose a problem over the phone with a technician while bobbing around with a load of warm fish on board will be much easier if the operator knows the difference between a king vs. a queen valve."

And then there are the safety concerns.

Refrigerant can displace oxygen, and this is a big deal in a relatively small, enclosed space like a fishing vessel. Trained operators understand that during system operation refrigerant is not consumed, and leaks are not normal.

Also, some things should not be messed with by someone who lacks the proper knowledge. Knowledge about what NOT to do, especially while the system is running, can prevent damage to an expensive system that could also lead to more downtime.

More than 90 fishermen who took the 3-day Certification course in 2014 are praising the class.

"At first I wondered whether my money was going to be well spent," says Bristol Bay fisherman Bob Winters. "The information I received in this course will return the course money 10 times over, at least. My refrigeration confidence also got a huge boost."

Anna Borland-Ivy, owner of F/V Winter Blues and also a Bristol Bay fisherman, agrees.

"This class demystifies marine refrigeration," she says. "Now I can really understand how to make my refrigeration work for me."

The need to deliver cold, quality product has increased exponentially as fishermen face competition from foreign and farmed sources and consumers have become more educated and discerning.

Consistently bringing quality fish to market increases market share and loyalty, as well as increasing prices.

Proper fish handling practices as well as being able to quickly bring fish down to temperature and keep it there every trip benefits all fishermen.

Cristy Fry is a fisherman from Homer who also does freelance writing relating to commercial fishing. She can be reached at


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