Jay Alderman, 09-19-07

Man found in water may have missed his footing
DUTCH HARBOR: The fisheries observer might have been trying to board his boat in nasty weather.


Published: September 25, 2007

A Texas man whose body was recovered from the water at Dutch Harbor last week had been out drinking the blustery night he disappeared, police said Monday.

Jay Alderman, 25, of Teague, Texas, had been working as a fisheries observer aboard the commercial fishing boat Westward I, which was docked in Captains Bay.

An observer typically is a young biologist who rides aboard large fishing boats to keep track of the catch as part of federal management of seafood harvests. Dutch Harbor is one of the nation's busiest fishing ports.

Alderman's boat was in port after a fishing trip, and he'd gone out drinking with fellow observers last Tuesday night, said local police Sgt. Matt Betzen.

Shortly after midnight, Alderman returned to the dock where the boat was tied up, Betzen said. He had a bunk on the boat.

As late as 3:45 a.m. people at the nearby Westwards Seafoods Inc. processing plant saw Alderman wandering around the dock area "just kind of mellowing out," Betzen said.

The weather was rough that night with rain and high winds, he said. A storm was blowing through.

Police believe Alderman might have been attempting to climb onto his boat when he fell into the water, maybe hitting his head, Betzen said.

The boat was not right against the dock. Rather, it was the middle craft in a stack of three fishing boats lashed to the wharf.

After the boat captain discovered Alderman was missing and couldn't find him around town, police began a search and brought in divers. Searchers found the body Thursday morning near where the boat had been docked, Betzen said.

A blood sample was taken for alcohol testing but no autopsy was performed, he said.

"It appears to be a horrible accident," Betzen said. "This was a young man who by all accounts was very reliable, trustworthy and well-liked."

Alderman had worked as an observer on multiple fishing trips and was employed by TechSEA International Inc., a Seattle company that provides observers to commercial fishing boat owners.

TechSEA operations manager Troy Quinlan described Alderman as an "A-1" observer. He had no comment on the circumstances of the death, saying police were still investigating.

Although observers do dangerous work, working in the wild waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, observer deaths are rare, said Sheela McLean, spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau.

Only one observer is known to have died at sea -- Robert McCord of Englewood, Colo., who was among nine people lost in 1990 when the fishing boat Aleutian Enterprise sank in the Bering Sea.

Another observer died after being hit by a vehicle while riding a bicycle in Kodiak, McLean said.

During the busiest time of year, up to 240 observers work in Alaska's federal bottomfish harvests, she said.