It was a dark and stormy morning.
Recently, a few Fishpeople were up at Ilwaco Landing in Washington State to observe a tuna offload (when the catch is taken off a fishing vessel). The night before the offload, a powerful storm blew in, delaying activities by 24 hours. And although things didn’t go exactly as planned that weekend, it turned out to be a great opportunity to experience “a day in the life” at Ilwaco Landing, and see up close what the dock crew contends with on a regular basis.
Ilwaco Landing is located in Southwest Washington, just inside the Columbia Bar (where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.) The Washington coast has a reputation for heavy weather that is well deserved. That particular Saturday morning around 6:30 am, ominous storm bands rolled in off the Pacific, accompanied by gale force winds. By 8:00 am, rain was pelting the dock and the wind was gusting up to 85 mph. Then the power went out.
Mike Shirley, co-owner of Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, called a huddle in the break room. First, he warned everyone to be extra careful (especially the visitors) since conditions were dangerous. Second, he made the call NOT to offload the tuna that day – the weather was simply too intense, and would endanger the workers as well as the catch.
When it rains, it pours.
“This is more like crabbing season – this is how it can get in November and December”, commented Ilwaco Landing employee, Joe J. As the storm raged, it became clear that members of the dock crew are the unsung heroes when it comes to getting fish off boats and onto plates. They are the first line of defense when it comes to providing high quality seafood to our customers, and perform many critical duties, including hoisting the catch off the boat, sorting and weighing it, and making sure it stays at the right temperature.
What the dock crew does is extremely important. Since fish is highly perishable, it is critical that the catch gets taken off the boat quickly and efficiently so that it retains it freshness, its flavor and its nutrients. Each and every task counts, and when the weather gets rough, executing those tasks can be difficult and dangerous.
Why they do it.
As we rode out the storm and enjoyed doughnuts, it became clear how much these guys like what they do. When asked how he felt about his job, friendly and energetic dockworker Jonathan M. explained, “I love my job! I get to be at the ocean and be with my friends. I love the camaraderie. Plus, it’s different everyday. Sometimes we work 3 hours, sometimes we work 18 hours – it just depends. Different fish and different weather keep things interesting.” Several members of the crew nodded their heads in agreement.
Changes in the weather are not the only thing that creates challenges for the dockworkers. This type of work is not always steady, and there can be downtime between fishing seasons. But when Fishpeople keeps the fish flowing through small, locally-owned-and-operated businesses like Ilwaco Landing, it helps generate reliable, full time jobs that stimulate the local economy. Joe J., for example has been full time at Ilwaco Landing for four years. After getting by on seasonal work for much of his career, he appreciates a regular paycheck, along with the upbeat and family-like environment.
The tuna offload commences.
The day after the storm was dazzling; clear skies and gentle breezes, a perfect morning for a tuna offload.
Once the offload began, everything clicked into place. Each member of the dock crew assumed their role, and together they become a well-oiled machine that efficiently offloaded the catch. To keep the energy high, music blasted, conversation flowed and jokes were cracked – but the rhythm of the work never ceased. Teamwork and camaraderie were evident all around, and it was obvious these dockworkers are very connected to their jobs, to each other and to the sea.