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(E) Paul Svornich, Washington Tuna Fisherman
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/18/2004 | People | Unrated
(E) Paul Svornich, Washington Tuna Fisherman


The tuna man & the sea


This article comes from The Sun Newspaper of Bremerton, Washington. John Peter Kraljic, Esq.

The tuna man & the sea
By Sue Edwards, For The Sun
October 17, 2004

It's the last weekend of September when Paul Svornich docks his tuna boat, the F/V Ocean, in Port Orchard with his final catch of the season. A Bainbridge Island resident when he's not on the open seas, Svornich comes from a long line of Croatian fishermen and operates the smallest boat in the commercial Pacific Ocean albacore fleet.

Many of his customers received postcards in advance of his arrival. They swarm the dock, eager to buy his catch. As the crowd gathers, Svornich's daughter, Kashmira, and her friends weigh the frozen rolls of loin fillet and whole fish. Nearby there are tins of Svornich's premium canned, smoked albacore, sold under his own label. Some folks, like Kit Burch of Everett, make an annual trek to Port Orchard to buy his sushi-quality fish.

"Paul has the best fish," Burch says. "This is my third year to come down here to buy it."

Jeremy Bethel of Port Orchard buys a whole fish, although he admits he's not sure how he's going to cook it. But Kashmira comes to his rescue, giving him a sheet she's put together that tells how to prepare the fish.

"First I'm going to go over there where they're coming in from salmon fishing and tell them I caught this in the bay," Bethel says with a chuckle.

Svornich's tan, weatherworn face creases into a smile at the joke.

Commercial fishing is in Svornich's blood. Both his grandfathers arrived in Puget Sound from Croatia sometime between 1907 and 1910 to do salmon seining here and in Alaska.

Svornich's father also was a salmon seiner, but Svornich says he is the only one of four kids who really loved fishing and stuck with it. He's been aboard ships since early childhood and worked his first full summer as a deckhand when he was 13.

"I loved fishing from the start, and those hard-working men of integrity I fished with provided wonderful role models," says Svornich.

He usually fishes by himself or with one carefully selected deck hand. His daughter, Kashmira Svornich, made the most recent trip with him.

"She goes every couple of years or until she forgets what hard work it is," he says as father and daughter exchange grins.

Svornich's fishing season runs from the start of July through the end of September. He fishes for tuna off the Washington, Oregon and Northern California coastline at the edge of the continental shelf where tuna feed on swarms of bait fish.

His small sailboat is powered by a one-cylinder engine fueled with "bio-diesel," made from soy bean oil, and a pair of gaff-rigged sails. The 38-foot wooden ship was designed and built by Svornich in a little over three years. It was launched in 1987 and has been running ever since. The vessel is patterned after a traditional Croatian sailboat-fishing vessel, with one exception.

"Most tuna vessels carry an average of about 15 tons of fish," says Svornich. "Mine only carries three tons."

Svornich uses the more labor-intensive sails by choice.

"I grew up in generations of using power boats," he said. "I found fishing with a sailboat is a lot more challenging and interesting. It forces you to work with the ocean as opposed to just barrelling through it with lots of horsepower."

Svornich looks every inch the fisherman, clad in old sweats and tall rubber boots, with his long, shiny brown hair pulled back in a ponytail.

As customers mill about the ship, Svornich answers questions while he pulls fish from the hold.

He hand catches every fish using six lines with only one hook per line. The small engine also powers the compressor to flash freeze his fish in a single hold at minus 40 degrees Farenheit. The fish are bled, processed and packaged by hand, then placed on the freezer plates - all within two hours of being caught. They're stored at minus 30 degrees Farenheit.

He fishes three trips a year, about 22 days at a time, and sells to local restaurants, friends, customers and passersby on the dock in Port Orchard.

He chats with his customers about other types of fishing he's done. He says he was inspired by sailing a similar boat from Belize through the Panama Canal and around to Port Townsend during a 106-day voyage in 1980.

Svornich lived aboard his boat for many years in Eagle Harbor, but now lives at home with his wife, Lorraine, on Bainbridge Island. When he isn't fishing, he serves as an Eagle Harbor port commissioner, does routine maintenance on the F/V Ocean and works at marketing his business.

"I love the deep ocean," he says, his expressive brown eyes lighting up.

"Once you get 50 or 60 miles out, it turns from green to a deep blue and the water temperature is about 10 degrees warmer," he says. "There's absolutely nothing like it."

To reach Paul Svornich about albacore tuna from the F/V Ocean, call (206) 842-6036.

Sue Edwards is a contributing writer for The Sun. Reach editor JoAnne Marez at (360) 792-9208 or  Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved.


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  • Comment #1 (Posted by Mike)

    We hope Paul is still in business when we get back to Washington State!! We love his fish and way of fishing.
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