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Saturday 26 March 2011

Pacific Northwest Fishing Fleet

Many of the world's oceans were colonized by European explorers as long as five centuries ago but the rugged, storm infested shores of the northeastern Pacific remained the domain of mostly land-based indigenous people until the introduction of the internal combustion engine.

Most of the harbors on the Oregon coast, on the northwestern seaboard of the US, are so inundated with on-shore weather that a fishing fleet requires real horsepower to reach fishing grounds. The older fleet of boats were of course made of wood and today seem quaint alongside the massive ships that dominate the industry.

Just two and three decades ago, family owned fishing vessels were the norm, but have been fast replaced by the huge steel behemoths that have redefined fishing as a factory endeavor. The tragic story of a dying way of life is told in the local papers as one after another of these old workhorses are put out to pasture or sink at their moorings.

The two closest harbors to my home are in Newport and Depoe Bay, Oregon. Neither of these ports were accessible by ships until breakwaters were built and the entrances dredged. In just three generations, we have witnessed the rise and fall of the fishing industry in this area due to inept management and greed, which makes many of us nostalgic for the days of the family fishing tradition and the hand built boats which made an honest life possible in this inhospitable climate.

photos by Jim Haron


  1. Nice post Michael. How many boats does this count as? We should at least get to count each of those in the photos.

    I do have to take issue with your last paragraph, however. Some fisheries - crab, pink shrimp, albacore tuna and bottom fish - are doing very well. These fisheries are certified sustainable by Seafood Watch and earning the fishermen record prices for record catches with many family-owned boats.

    The high-profile salmon fishery seems to grab the most headlines and they are having a tough time. Climate change and management of the inland streams where they breed has as much or more to do with the decline in that fishery than previous overfishing and greed.


  2. Great post and some lovely boats - enough to make me think about having a motor boat!

    Interesting commentary on the fishing and a way of life, in Falmouth England Oyster dredging is restricted to working boats under sail to preserve the fishery. Not suggesting such extreme measures should apply but maybe if there were limits on boat size there would still be such a fleet and the associated communities.

  3. Even the family owned boats that have remained competitive are not these small craft, but much larger boats where the owner is absent, tending his books.
    For instance, the photo of the fish-buying plant with fuel dock and all the boats rafted five deep...
    That entire facility lies derelict and all of those boats are gone - that picture was taken 25 years ago.
    At one time I considered commercial fishing under sail myself, but the opportunity has gone. Fishing permits cost thousands of dollars and are attached to the vessels they regulate.

    As these old boats "retired" their permits went with them.

  4. Been thinking about this for days, Brandon. Thirty years ago, the only fishery out of Oregon was salmon. Not an insignificant detail. The fisheries you mention did not exist on the northeastern Pacific shore until the salmon disappeared. Fishermen who were clever and resourceful created the fishery for the previously disdained bottom fish and desperate, trapped crab in the winter.

    Many, many of the less imaginative now live in old travel trailers in the woods, or walk our streets and highways with a weathered look and a back pack. You've seen them.
    Many of them died from years of hard work, hard drink and drugs and no health care. These are stories you hear only from friends and family members, while the wheels of commerce grind on. Those are the (previous) owners of the (historical) boats we see here. I knew these guys, makes me sad.

  5. Fished on the FV Antler in the SE of AK for a spell in 1991. A halibut derby out of Petersburg, and then Dungeness here and there. Didn't make much $ but that wasn't important at the time. The FV Antler was my first boat and she taught me important skills and lessons of the industry. Experience is what I craved, and I could feel the history all around me. I fell in love with the lifestyle right then and there. One, in a long line of fishermen who did the same on her decks, I'm sure.
    I went on to Dutch Harbor and fished for the next 4-5 years onboard the FV Prowler. Looking back, it was the FV Antler that got the sea in my veins. What a fantastic, classic vessel to have done that!