In early October the City of Bellingham, Washington sponsored the inaugural Bellingham SeaFeast to celebrate Bellingham’s seafood industry and the city’s working waterfront.
The festival is the invention of Debbie Granger, a local volunteer and activist who is on the board of directors of the Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County, Washington. Debbie says the city is blessed with an abundant maritime resource, responsible for the employment of much of the region, but the waterfront and the county’s maritime heritage have never been celebrated.
A $75,000 grant from the City of Bellingham was about to expire when one of Debbie’s colleagues called her attention to it. She held a series of quick meetings, spoke to community leaders and within less than two weeks had written a 40-page grant proposal. Several months later, the grant was approved.
“Our waterfront has defined Bellingham from the very beginnings,” Debbie says, but notes that much of what happens on the city’s waterfront is a mystery to many of its residents. The city needed “a festival to shine the spotlight on Bellingham’s internationally-acclaimed seafood and our working waterfront.”
The event kicked off at 9:00 am on Friday, September 30th with a series of “fisherpoets workshops” at the Fairhaven library, where participants learned how to write maritime ballads, the elements of storytelling and how to write like a fisherman. That afternoon, participants showcased their works at the Boundary Bay Brewery’s “Fisherpoets on Bellingham Bay” and the Honey Moon Mead & Cider Bar’s “Sea Shanties Sing-A-Long.”
The following day visitors were greeted by a welcome ceremony at Zuanich Point Park at Squalicum Harbor.
The festival included opportunities for competitors to compete for prizes in an international salmon grilling competition, and a survival suit race saw teams donning suits on the deck of a fishing boat, jumping into the water and swimming across the harbor to board an inflatable raft. A celebrity oyster shuck-and-slurp saw winners Michael Lilliquist (Bellingham City Council Representative) and Mark Seymour (oyster farmer at Drayton Harbor Oyster Company) finish first with 24 oysters in 2 minutes.
Professional demonstrations included net mending, fish filleting and cooking demonstrations.
A food pavilion was populated with more than a dozen food trucks and stands offering fresh seafood, from oysters to paella to traditional Lummi nation grilled salmon. A beer garden offered beer, wine and spectacular views of Bellingham Bay. Kids’ activities and exhibits offered opportunities to learn more about the industry, as did a dock walk with interactive commercial fishing vessel displays and safety at sea demonstrations.
San Juan Cruises offered free boat rides to Bellingham Cold Storage, who offered tours of their facility. The US Coast Guard staged a mock sea rescue by helicopter, and one of their response boats was available for tours, as was the county’s newest fireboat.
The celebration culminated with a Grand SeaFeast Finale, which offered 80 different types of seafood.
We have never seen a community festival as well organized and well attended as SeaFeast. Much of the organizational credit goes to Debbie and Pete Granger and the army of volunteers who made it possible, as well as the community’s fishermen, who participated in the introduction of the community to the industry, giving their time and patience to explain the importance of their roles in the process.
Much credit also belongs to the community, who came to the event by the hundreds, toured the docks, ate the seafood, met the producers and stayed until the sun set, dancing to local bands and celebrating the relationship between the harvester, the harvest and the consumer. Congratulations, Bellingham.
To correct the record:
In October we wrote that Oregon Governor Kate Brown who replaced Governor John Kitzhaber after he closed the mainstem of the Columbia River to commercial gillnetters, was likely to continue with the policies of her predecessor. We were corrected by Hobe Kytr, who administers salmon For All (see related editorial on page 42). Mr. Kytr noted that Governor Brown has appointed Bruce Buckmaster of Astoria to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to represent the First Congressional District, over the strenuous opposition of the Coastal Conservation Association, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, and the Northwest Steelheaders. He says former Governor Kitzhaber absolutely refused to appoint a representative from the First Congressional district to the Commission. Kate Brown corrected that.
Kytr says Bruce Buckmaster is a former Board member of salmon For All, and has first-hand knowledge of gillnetting, as well as being an avid sport fisherman.
”Governor Brown told us that, unlike Governor Kitzhaber, she has no intention of micro-managing the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission,” Kytr says. “In the interim, we have pretty well convinced the Oregon Commission that the Kitzhaber plan has not worked up to this point, and will not work in the future. Under Oregon law, that means they must make changes to correct that situation, and address the problems the Kitzhaber plan created.”