Astoria, Oregon is the perfect setting for turning back the clocks to reminisce on the old ways of the fishermen. This place used to house the saltiest people of the sea who nestled into town after crossing the world’s most dangerous intersection where the grand Columbia River enters the Pacific Ocean. When sailors and fishermen came afoot onto solid ground, the thoughts that prospered while at sea often got washed away by libations and ladies awaiting their return to the mainland. Still, fishermen are often incredibly deep and spiritual people.
This week was the 21st annual Fishers Poets gathering in Astoria, Oregon. The fishers poets gathering is an opportunity for fishermen and fishing community members to read their heartfelt poetry in front of the public in settings ranging from the intimate to boisterous pubs. Where folks come to listen and admire the passion and lifestyle of our fishing community.
Friday was opening day with a range of poetry read throughout the seven venues. For me, however, the weekend started off facilitating a 10 am Saturday morning educational discussion on fisheries policy with Kevin Scribner, with Forever Wild Seafood. Kevin and I were representing the west coast regional team of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, which is based in Washington, DC. Since Astoria is know for its libations and late night binging, we didn’t know what kind of a crowd, or if anyone, was going to show up to talk fisheries policy at 10 am Saturday morning.
As the 10 am start time neared, the room filled up with a mix of young and old fishermen, state fisheries managers, port commissioners, and working waterfront coalition members. Kevin started off with an overview of how our national fishery policy operates, the success stories of the west coast fisheries rebuilding plans, and the adversities we are facing with current bills in the US Senate, such as S.1520, the Modern Fish Act.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our main federal fisheries law, has evolved over time to adapt to the ever-changing ocean environment, better scientific data collection, and ecosystem-based fisheries management. The law needs to be malleable and open to change and evolution, as long as lawmakers don’t gut the key conservation measures that are built in to protect our ocean from overfishing. A bill in the Senate, S.1520, however, caters to special interests instead of building upon the science-based conservation of the MSA for the good of all. We can do better than this, and we need to stand up for the very important components of the law that protect our ocean so our kids and grandkids have the same opportunity to enjoy the bounty of the sea as we do today.
Next up to talk was Valerie Fokema, who is a 25-year resident of Garibaldi, Oregon. She serves as an unpaid commissioner on the Garibaldi Port Commission, and she also owns Garibaldi Marina, where they rent out boats to the public. Her deep felt passion and personal experience seeing how the port of Garibaldi has changed were inspiring to listen to. It’s not just how the port has changed, but rather what the port has done to continue to progress and evolve. Garibaldi has invested in safer jetties to protect fishermen while entering and exiting the dangerous ocean and returning to port. The city also has invested heavily in dock rebuilding projects, infrastructure improvements, and amenities to help the public enjoy the working waterfront that makes up a real fishing port.
When discussing sustainability for fishermen, Valerie was the first to talk about how fishermen do not want to be the ones to catch the last fish. On the way into the meeting room that morning we saw photos of the Astoria fishing boats in the early 1900’s overfilled with salmon, tuna, native oysters, and sardines. The bustling canneries in those days are just memories on the walls around town, since we almost depleted all of those fisheries to near extinction. It’s these memories and photos that remind us of our adverse affect that fishing can have on stocks. If there are no fish to catch, then the salty lifestyle of the fishermen will be just another memory on the walls in buildings around Astoria. It’s from this place of conservation that most fishermen understand the importance of sound fisheries policy. This is why the room was filled with passionate and engaging people on this sunny, crisp, spring morning in Astoria.
Next up on the docket was 5th generation fisherman Jeremy Coon. Jeremy started his career fishing for clams in the Tillamook Bay. He uses scuba gear to harvest butter clams from 15 feet of water, and sells them to the crabbers for bait and to seafood buyers for human consumption. Within a short couple of years he noticed the lack of infrastructure necessary for fishermen and buyers to negotiate and operate in a successful port. There were minimal options to purchase fuel, bait, and ice. Additionally there was no public hoist to assist the fisherman in getting the day’s catch out of the boat and into the buyer’s vehicle. These components of a port are essential tools for both buyers and sellers of seafood. In this day and age, it’s like a computer programmer showing up to the office without internet access, or a construction worker going to a job site without power. Yes, some work can be done offline, but real progress happens when you are fully able to operate with the tools necessary for your trade.
Jeremy worked with the Garibaldi Port Commission and secured a contract to install a new building plus a private hoist, which he will operate to assist the other fishermen and buyers to keep Garibaldi a true working waterfront. Jeremy’s investment and commitment to the port of Garibaldi is inspirational. There is opportunity for the next generation of fishermen to step up and evolve into the next wave of forward thinking entrepreneurs who are willing to make a commitment to providing the framework, inspiration, and tenacity to keep our working waterfronts alive and coastal communities thriving.
We need to contact our states representatives in the US Senate and let them know that it’s important to protect key conservation measures of the MSA and vote no to Senate bill S-1520. We also need to support the women and men who keep our working waterfronts successful and prosperous. Go visit Garibaldi and other working ports up and down our nation’s coastlines. Go to the Fishers Poets gathering in Astoria, or go crabbing, fishing, and clamming so you get a coastal experience and know where your seafood is coming from. In the salty, crisp, rich air of our coastlines is where memories are made. Go and enjoy!