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A Whale of an Investment

The allure of independence associated with a commercial fisherman's life first grabbed hold of Nazary Basargin more than 30 years ago. He's fished all over the Pacific Northwest since and shows no signs of slowing down.

"You enjoy the opportunity to be your own boss," said Basargin, 57. "Sure, it's hard work, but you do get a thrill and excitement out of it."

Stationed in Homer, Basargin these days concentrates most of his business in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. And like any good sea-faring soul, he knows he shares the ocean waters with others - humans, fish and assorted aquatic species.

So Basargin, like many fishermen around the world, made an environmentally-friendly yet costly choice. With financing help from First National Bank Alaska, he invested in an "Orca Saver" in hopes of keeping whales away from his droplines and other gear.

The "Saver" device attaches to the lines and sends out beeping sounds. The idea is the whales and other unwanted species hear the signals and stay away from the hooks and lines.

An article in the Los Angeles Times described Basargin's device and others like it as the undersea versions of highway reflectors, warning marine mammals to slow down and pay attention. The ocean being a noisy place, the equipment is programmed to broadcast the sounds at a level as close to background as possible while loud enough for an animal to hear in time to change course.

According to the Times story, whales and other species generally get hooked in droplines or hung up in nets while swimming along, perhaps in a sleepy haze. Hearing the unusual pinging sounds, it's believed the animals turn on their internal sonar and sense the man-made fishing gear.

"We hope they are alerting devices, but we don't know exactly what it is the animal is responding to," New England scientist Scott Kraus told the Times.

“A pretty expensive contraption”

Basargin's motivation to purchase an "Orca Saver" shouldn't be mistaken purely as a "save the whales" campaign. The investment in the equipment will hopefully save costs associated with damaged gear and allow his crew to actually catch the fish - notably, halibut and black cod - processors pay him to help bring to market.

"Keeping the whales away from the gear, it's good for the industry and for the whales," Basargin said. Basargin called the "Saver" a "pretty expensive contraption" and one in high demand among commercial fishermen. He said his cost roughly $65,000 and the manufacturer needed 50 percent up front. So, Basargin did what he's done for years. He called on First National's Homer Branch Manager Erik Niebuhr and Loan Assistant Linda Mishler for the financing assistance he needed.

"First National always has my back," Basargin said. "Erik and Linda are always real responsive."

Basargin said he appreciated Niebuhr's understanding of the commercial fishing industry. The men and women of the trade don't necessarily receive paychecks every two weeks. Money comes in spurts and financing requests come down the pike at any odd times.

"It's important to me that Erik and others at the bank are local," Basargin said. "Not all banks get what we're doing, especially those based outside Alaska."

“A real boost”

Basargin and his crew annually leave the Homer area in May and fish their way west through the Gulf of Alaska and toward the Aleutian Islands. They often work into September, docking occasionally in Dutch Harbor or Saint Paul. It's there where they sell fish to canneries and processors or refuel.

Once in a while, Basargin may take a flight back to Homer for a few days at home.

It's a rewarding life full of hard work and positive thinking.

"If you luck out, there is money to be made," Basargin said.

Basargin hopes to find some luck once the "Orca Saver" goes to work. The investment will prove wise if he and his crew are bothered by fewer whales.

"If it works, and I have faith it will, it will be a real boost," he said.

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