Vanishing Boats, Lost Fishermen, and the Price of Fish

Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Commercial Fishing, Hooked Favorites | 25 comments

I woke up this morning with a particular post in mind. I wanted to tell you about the changes afoot here at Hooked Central. Winter is abruptly over. Cap’n J, Bear the Boat Cat and I are packing up and heading back to Sitka next week, where we’ll reunite with our girl, the F/V Nerka. It’s been a tough winter up there, and we’re anxious to see how she weathered all these months alone. I’d planned to tell you about the long to-do and don’t-forget lists, reflecting on the ways we say goodbye to one life in anticipation of the other, and probably would’ve ended up with something very similar to this post. That’s what I had in mind.

Then two tragedies bookended the day, and suddenly those preparatory details of our life at sea seemed terribly trivial.

The first was out of Newport, Oregon. The F/V Chevelle ran hard aground on the jetty this weekend. Everyone made it safely to shore, but the 70-foot steel crabber remained lurched against the rocks, hammered by growing waves. The News Lincoln County’s article included video of the wreck, and my blood chilled as I realized what I was seeing.  As each wave hits, the Chevelle’s aft deck raises independently of her shuddering wheelhouse. That’s the sight of the sea slowly unzipping a boat down its midship line, like a piece of paper torn in half. For the ocean-goers amongst us, this video is more frightening than any horror movie villain.

Tonight, I went back online and saw this headline from today’s Seattle P.I.: “Boat sank so fast no time for distress call.” The article includes all the worst kinds of heartbreak… The crewman who’d had a bad feeling about making that trip, but a worse feeling about his house payments. The deckhand who’d been hired on just a day earlier, eager to work. The Coast Guard station that received an EPIRB alarm from the Lady Cecilia at 3:37 a.m., and arrived on scene, 17 miles off the Washington coast, only to find an oil slick, some debris, and a life raft – empty. The search team that scoured over 640 square miles of unconcerned ocean. The four men who weren’t found. The two year old boy who won’t see his father again.

Here at our house, we keep a little altar over the fireplace. Some candles. A weeping Buddha, circled with small mementos from the sea. Photos of people we’ve lost. I keep a photocopy of an old Portland Oregonian article tucked up there, too. I don’t know the author’s name or the publication date, don’t even know how it came into my hands in the first place, but I know it resonates in a deep, waterlogged place in my heart and it’s all I really want to share with you today.

The Price of Fish

“The deep sea fishing boat ‘Republic’ will never sail out for the tuna again, nor for the salmon – out of Astoria into the green swells from westward. Part of her bow has drifted ashore near Long Beach, and some of the forward deck – and where the hulk of her is, only the sea can tell. Her last port of call was the storm. And the fishermen who sailed her, and looked to her fishing gear, and harvested the sea? Where are they? Perhaps the gulls know, or the cormorants. Only this seems certain – that they and their boat will fish no more.

You walk through the market and glance at the fish stalls heaped with limp silver. Only a day or so ago these fish, most of them, were out where ‘the low sky mates with the sea.’ Now they bear price tags. Even fish, so we say, is high priced. That is true. Fish are high priced – and the least of the price is reckoned in coin.

Men who would rather fish at sea than work ashore sail out on the fishing boats to seek and follow the fish. It is a glad, hard life, and they love it well – but they stake their lives on the catch. It isn’t often that the boats don’t come back to port, for their oil-skinned skippers and crews to shout to their friends on the dock with word of their luck – but sometimes they don’t. The ‘Republic’ was one that didn’t. And how are you going to figure that into the price of a pound of fish?”

Rest in peace, Dave Nichols, Jason Bjaranson, Luke Jensen, Chris Langel, F/V Lady Cecilia, and F/V Chevelle. My heart goes out to all of your loved ones left on shore.



  1. The fisherman’s prayer, by Butch Leman

    • What a good video to share, Boz – thank you for this!

  2. Thanks, Tele, for putting my BS into perspective today! My heart lurched when I heard about the boat, so glad you posted! Love you as always, Joy!

    • Perspective makes a difference… Love to you, too, Joy!

  3. Beautiful piece, Tele. Made me stop and think about all my fishing buddies who are no longer with us, give a little prayer for those who are out fishing right now, and wishing a safe return for those of us who soon will be.

    • Yep, I know this stuff hits you in the same place, Jen. Such a bizarre balancing act we do, identifying so strongly with an occupation and lifestyle while accepting a certain level of ungovernable risk as the price of admission.

  4. I am sorry, Tele. Your post is too real and too close. I am sorry for those lost and for those left.

    • Thank you, Kathryn.

  5. Thanks for up to date info from Hooked.

  6. Ooooff! This post hit hard Tele. I assume you and Joel are going to go over drills et c. this spring. looking at the names at the fishermen’s memorial is an amazing, sobering experience. The memorial in Newport harbor is a walk where the pavement has names of boats and crew lost at sea – like getting a star on Hollywood Blvd. You walk on that path going to the marine store in the summer. Perhaps by design, it makes you think about safety and things you should do for the boat before you go fish. And weather and getting back instead of being tougher.

    You guys be safe out there.

    • I haven’t seen the Newport memorial – will have to do that next time I’m down that way. Sounds like a good idea, having the names out in our daily life and routine walks, rather than isolated on a plaque. Yes, we’ve got safety on the mind right now… Signed up to spend our last 2 nights in Bellingham in a first aid/CPR class, which has been long overdue, and will be putting drills on the list when we get up there.

      You be safe, too, buddy. I know a couple furry friends who depend on your return.

  7. Thanks, Tele. This is a reminder of how short and fragile life is and of how there is a higher cost for what I eat than what I pay.

    • Well said, Cami. As much as I understand this for fish, I still sometimes have to challenge my cheapskate nature when considering other food purchases.

  8. Tele, I find your blog fascinating and follow but don’t often comment. You open a window into such a different way of life than most of us know. What sad news. My thoughts are for those lost, those left, and those who risk their lives on a regular basis doing something so necessary.

    • Thank you for speaking up today, Patricia. I’m glad that you’ve found points of connection within a foreign lifestyle, and appreciate your compassion. So glad to have you with us.

  9. My first exposure to your marvelous blog, Tele. Thank you for writing so well about something I can only wring my hands about! Somehow it comforts to see someone has expressed these conflicts so well.

    • Carol, thanks for visiting and commenting. Our world can use all of the expressions of compassion we can offer, and I believe hand-wringing counts. Your paintings are stunning, and I’m glad to meet you.

  10. “It’s no fish ye’re buying: it’s men’s lives.” -Sir Walter Scott.

    Oh, Tele, here are my inadequate words for this post: thank you for writing, thank you for sharing the Republic article, thank you for, as nearly always, saying things so well that tears come to my eyes (though death at sea doesn’t need much help to make that happen), you make things real in a very adept way.

    • A perfect quote, Betsy – thanks for including that.

      I suspect that these tragedies resonate in a pretty personal way for you and others from the Stevens family… At sea or on the mountain, we know all too well the potential cost of what’s most life-giving to us.

      (Love to you.)

  11. What a day, so sad and so tragic and hard to come to terms with.
    She must always be respected, it is a gift to go to sea, and sometimes she cruelly claims something back. Take care.

    • So very true, Claire. I feel tremendously privileged and grateful for my time on the water – but that doesn’t mean I don’t experience anxiety, uncertainty, and even fear sometimes. So far the trade-off has been worth it… Thanks for your comment.

  12. Thanks for calling this community together to bear witness to the tragic end to four precious lives. My heart breaks for their families. May we all cherish each moment just a little more today to honor their memory. May we all be a little kinder.

    • Yes – kindness counts. Thanks for this guidance, Angela.

  13. What a lovely image, Pierr – thank you for linking.


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