Voices from the Deck: Reflections from a Geoduck Diive Harvest Tender

Chris Harnish came to geoduck farming from a background in migrant work. Since he was eighteen, Chris followed the seasons, finding employment in various land and water-based industries - from “aligatorin’’ in New Orleans to selling gems in Tucson. He has since settled with his wife and kids in his hometown of Olympia, where he works year-round for Sound Shellfish.

Tenders on dive harvest boats are responsible for regulating the diver’s air and water supply and processing the harvest. From the deck, the tender listens to the diver’s breathing through an intercom system and watches their air bubbles in the water to ensure that the diver stays on the plot and is safe from passing boats. Understanding underwater communication is a skill: “A lot of it is situational. If I see him coming back to the boat and I hear him say something, more than likely he’s telling me to turn off his water. So I’ll turn off his water.”

Chris Harnish: geoduck dive tender

“I really like the water--the maritime industry in general. I worked on a couple salmon boats and did a little bit of crab fishing up north in Alaska. And then I was like, ‘man, this is just really, really hard.’ It’s great money, but hard. So, then I came down here and got introduced through a friend to geoducking.”

“I figured if I could get seasonal work for all seasons then I’ll have a full-time job all the time and still have time to travel around and do what I like to do. So I’d work and make some money and then take off and do whatever seasonal work I could scrounge up.”

“For me it was growing up being a runaway, being homeless, being a junkie; then I was like, ‘wait, I don’t have to be a victim. I can actively control my life by working.’”

chris helping man in wetsuit gear up for dive
“Tending is making sure your diver doesn’t die.”

chris spraying off diver with hose
“You’re making it as easy as possible for the guy who is underwater to do his job and to get product out, and to essentially not have a catastrophic failure. If anything happens where I don’t hear the dadadadada chchchchch and I hear the air start going into the in-take, then I can be like, ‘okay, something’s wrong.’ Then I can do what I need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen."

counting table of geoducks on boat
“As a disclaimer, we’re doing inter-tidal farming. We’re not doing 70-foot dives. ‘When in doubt, stand up and walk out’ is our theory. But at the same time, people have drowned in 4 or 5 feet of water before. If anything goes wrong you need to know how to remedy the situation immediately.”

hands touching sea star