Nathan Dunford, 42, has worked on and off at the Portland Fish Exchange for 20 years, in between stints as a lobsterman and commercial fisherman. Three years ago, he became offloading supervisor at the fish exchange. After the lumpers unload the fish from the boat, Dunford and a handful of other strapping employees sort the fish into tote bags by species and size, and then weigh and tag them before scanning the catch into a computer and delivering it to the 11 a.m. fish auction.

STARTING TIME: We normally start at 6, but yesterday we were down here at 3.

WHAT IT TAKES TO UNLOAD A BOAT: We average about 10,000 pounds an hour, sometimes more.

UNEXPECTED CATCH: You name it, I’ve seen everything. Once when I was fishing, we pulled up a bomb from World War II. They had to come out to the boat and defuse it before we could move it. We had a guy recently, he had a giant stuffed panda that he towed up and that was his deck mascot, and he had that lashed to the mast.

ILLEGAL SEAFOOD: There’s some highly regulated species that we can’t have at all, and we have to reject them. Occasionally, one of those comes up and we have to let the captains know. If it’s illegal, we have a pretty big (marine) warden presence down here, and we’ll contact them and they usually take it to the (soup kitchen at) Preble Street Resource Center. Sometimes a short halibut comes up and it’s illegal, but a short halibut is under 42 inches long, so it’s still a pretty good-sized fish. So those guys get to eat good that night.

HOW BAD THE ODOR GETS: It doesn’t bother me at all. The only stuff we really don’t like is we handle a lot of bait as well, and some of that can smell pretty bad. But the fresh fish doesn’t smell bad. It’s a good smell. It smells like money. That’s what we always say when we go in the store and somebody’s complaining about what we smell like after work.


HOW LONG THE STINK LASTS: You might have to ask my wife what she thinks about that.

ON WHETHER OR NOT HE STILL EATS FISH: Yes, but we’re all very particular about the fish we eat. None of us will buy it at the store. We know captains, and we’ll pick our fish fresh from the boat.

FAVORITE FISH: I would say crabmeat-stuffed grey sole filets. That’s a type of flounder. Haddock is a big favorite. A lot of guys like redfish as well. Most places consider that a junk fish, but we like red fish.

WHAT HE LOVES ABOUT HIS JOB: I just love the guys that work down here. They’re a great bunch of people. I love the hard work. You’ve done something when you go home at the end of the day. I love being outdoors. People would kill for the view from our office window.


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