New Zealand Law Society - Bering Sea fishing veteran tells great work stories

Bering Sea fishing veteran tells great work stories

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By Jock Anderson

Scott Thomas (Scott) Clark
Seattle, United States. 
Entry to law
Graduated BA/LLB Auckland University 2010. Admitted 2010. 
Vulcan Chambers, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Criminal law.

When Scott Clark took up commercial fishing in Seattle at 16 he was told the first ten years would be the hardest.

After twenty years fishing the treacherous waters of the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia for crabs, salmon, halibut and black cod – much of it in 20 metre boats up to 200 miles offshore – Scott decided a better and safer future lay with a New Zealand girl he met during a Canadian skiing break.

Scott and his wife Robyn Oldfield returned to New Zealand, where they have a son (10) and a daughter (8) and Robyn is a pathologist at Auckland Hospital.

“I already had an applied sciences degree from college, so when I met Robyn I decided to give up fishing and go back to school.”

After spells living in Nelson and Dunedin the family moved to Auckland where Scott studied law as a mature student at Auckland University, graduating and being admitted in 2010.

Scott - whose retired father was the Seattle equivalent of a District Court judge and whose half-sister is a lawyer in California - recently joined Vulcan Chambers in central Auckland, where he enjoys the tutelage of leading crime barristers Roger Chambers, Mark Ryan and Andrew Speed.

“When I graduated from high school my parents bought me a one way ticket to Alaska … I guess the writing was on the wall…

“Seattle has a major connection with the fishing fleets that come in for refitting. At 16 I was working on a floating fish processor, then started on crabbing and salmon before moving on to long lining for halibut and black cod.

“We iced the fish down on board so we could stay at sea for seven to eight days.”

Commercial fishing is big business in the Bering Sea, the US side catching about $US1 billion worth of seafood annually and the Russian fisheries about $US600 million.

The waters Scott fished are the backdrops for the internationally popular extreme reality television series Deadliest Catch – which portrays events aboard competing crab boats in the Bering Sea.

The show’s title derives from the inherent high risk of injury or death associated with the work. One skipper, Phil Harris, died during the filming of an episode in 2010.

“The crabbing wasn’t my cup of tea and that show is over-dramatised. They have it pretty soft on those big luxury boats with showers and a toilet.

“We sank in a big storm in the Bering Sea and we all got off – I don’t know how we survived that one.

“We fished mainly on the Bering Sea Pacific basin continental shelf, up to 200 miles offshore, and close into the Aleutian Islands with their exploding volcanoes.”

Before fishing quota management was introduced, boats had what was known as a 21 day derby, when upwards of 5,000 fishing boats would head out to the fishing grounds.

Big foreign boats would work international waters known as the Donut Hole, sneaking in at night on poaching missions – some of them caught by the US Coast Guard and confiscated.

“The foreign boats took the risk because the catch was worth millions of dollars, the boats worthless and the owners were never found.

“It never did get easier after the first ten years. It was always dangerous and always physical. And more monetary than adventure…”

Scott’s last job was on Quest, regarded as a top fishing boat, owned and skippered by Dean Adams, who ran a six-man crew.

“We all had equal jobs, including setting and hauling gear, running the boat and wheel watches. It was a close-knit group of guys. No smoking or drinking on board and a very professional crew.

“A little different to some of my earlier boats. On Quest we would go ashore and beachcomb.”

Quest also carried snow skis and mountain bikes for “healthy shore excursions”.

A qualified skiing instructor, cycling is another of Scott’s pursuits – mountain biking and BMX in particular.

In 2013 he rode in the preliminary rounds for the US team at the UCI BMX world championships at Vector Arena, Auckland.

“The whole family ride mountain bikes and we spend a lot of time cycling round Rotorua.

“Whereas in Auckland I spend a lot of time driving round looking for a carpark…”

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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