Scuba diver Jeff Meucci after the end of the dive season hauling in crab gear from the Bering Sea. Courtesy Jeff Meucci

After commercial fishing for 20 years, Jeff Meucci worked for two decades as a scientific scuba diver for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Based out of Petersburg in Southeast, Meucci spent March through September every year diving to survey fishery populations like herring, geoduck clams, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Meucci retired in 2020 as the dive master on board the state research vessel Kestrel. ~ as told to and edited by Alexander Deedy

What did your job entail day to day? 

A typical day for us was to leave the Kestrel around 7:30 and start diving at 8. We’d do four or five dives in the morning, then go back and warm up at lunch and eat something. If people wanted to take a nap at lunch, they did that. Then we’d go back out and dive from about 1:30 to 4:30 or 5. We’d come back to the boat to get out of our dry suits, put our street clothes on, and warm up. Usually, we’d enter data from about 4:30 to 6. Eat dinner at 6 and then relax after that.

Probably the best part about the job is being with the scuba diver team. We’re on a 105-foot boat with a crew of three, and they’re just like family. We fought and laughed and celebrated birthdays and tragedies. It was a really cool job. All we had to do is sleep and eat and dive. That’s it. I always appreciated what I had because I got to see some things that are just hard to explain. It’s so dynamic underwater. I haven’t been doing it for like a year, and I still get excited talking about it.

Can you give me an example? 

You never know what you’re gonna see. I dove like three- to four-hundred dives a year for 20 years. And every dive was different. You might go back to the same area, but there were always different things going on: the water clarity, the currents, the weather, the people. Octopus are fascinating to me. They’re just really, really cool. And if you’ve been doing it long enough, you get to know where they’re living. 

Ronquil fish by a sea anenome and other underwater life
Alaska’s waters create dynamic environments that are home to fish like this ronquil. Jeff Meucci enjoyed discovering the sea’s critters when he worked as a professional diver. Courtesy Jeff Meucci

Why was diving important to the fisheries, communities, and livelihoods of southeast Alaska?

We have to have sustainable fisheries. The stocks have to be healthy for herring, sea cucumbers, and the geoducks, as well as the red urchins. The work that we do in the spring and summer on stock assessment determines how much is harvested in the fall and winter. The cucumber, red urchin, and geoduck are mostly small-boat fisheries. So it’s really important for the smaller communities like Petersburg, Ketchikan, Craig, and Sitka. They have small fleets that go out into the areas that are closest to their town and harvest sea cucumbers and geoducks in a time of the year [November] where there’s not a lot of stuff going on.

What was it being a scuba diver in the cold water of Southeast? 

It’s real challenging staying warm. We finally found some undergarments that are made in the United Kingdom that kind of took the cold out of diving. We wear a polypro base layer. Then we wear this thing called a Weezle—it’s like a big sleeping bag with footies—and then we have a dry suit on top of that. It’s really cumbersome at the surface, but once you get underwater it’s great. 

Since you have so much insulation on, it takes a lot of weight to keep you underwater. I’d have 32 pounds of weight on my hips, four pounds on each ankle, and five pounds on my back. Then the scuba tank and the gear and the mask and all that stuff. It was typically like 80 to 100 pounds on your back when you’re in the skiff. The hardest part about diving is getting out of the water because you have to climb up a ladder that’s attached to the boat. So, you’ve got all that stuff on as you climb up the ladder to get in the skiff. But once you get in the water, you’re weightless. 

The water temperature doesn’t change much in Southeast. It’s the outside air temperature, it’s the wind, that gets you. That’s the part that you really have to pay attention to.

Do you still dive for fun?  

No. I suppose I would recreationally dive at some time, but you know, it was a job. Once you’ve done it as a job that luster kind of goes off of it. But yeah, it was pretty cool. I miss the water. I live on a house that overlooks Wrangell Narrows. I’m always watching the water. I’m drawn to the water. So, I guess it was kind of cool I had a job that I was able to be in it for most of my life.


Alexander Deedy formerly worked as the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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