by Marie Sherlock
It’s a dazzling August morning in Newport, Oregon. Cotton puff clouds dot an endless azure sky that melts into the glistening ocean. Dozens of fishing boats and clusters of cacophonous sea lions add a maritime ambience to Newport’s bayfront docks.
My husband and I are the benefactors of all of this late summer coastal glory, up early to catch the first “Shop At the Dock” tour of the day.
For the uninitiated “Shop At the Dock” (SATD) is a (free!) program that educates consumers on how to buy seafood directly from fishers.
Sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon State University’s (OSU) Extension Service, the tours take place in Newport and Garibaldi during the summer months and are part of a larger sea-to-table movement.
Our tour guide, OSU Assistant Professor Angee Doerr, holds a doctorate in ecology and is eminently qualified to deliver these lessons.
Doerr first goes over some “dock etiquette.” Number one involves, er, number two: beware the dog poop (we encounter only one specimen). But Doerr’s main caveat is: “While open to the public, this is a working commercial fishing dock.” We give those men (and a few women) wide berth.
Our tour follows a pattern: we walk to a boat to learn what type of fishing vessel it is and then receive a wealth of information on the specific type of catch involved and the fishing industry generally.
Doerr points out the difference between groundfish trawlers which use metal doors (pulled through water to hold the nets open) and shrimp vessels utilizing wooden doors. We discover that Pacific whiting is the most commonly caught fish (by volume) along the coast. (It’s not available for purchase on the docks; you wouldn’t want it if it were, as it breaks down quickly. Think fish sticks.)
But perhaps the most important lessons concern the fishing industry’s sustainability efforts and the effects of climate change on the region’s fishing community—and on us, the consumers.
“Oregon is big on certifying sustainable fisheries,” says Doerr, and enjoys a simpatico relationship with the industry.
For example, the specialty of the Lisa Marie, a stunning royal blue trawler, is market squid or, as most of us know them, calamari. Doerr notes that squid are normally found farther south, off California. But as those waters warm, they’ve been moving up the coast.
Another is the Miss Yvonne, a shrimp boat using those wooden doors for its nets. The fishing industry has put extraordinary effort into devising nets that result in less by-catch. They’ve been successful; over 99 percent of the harvest is now just those tiny pink shellfish.
Finally, in keeping with the “shop” portion of SATD, Doerr gives us tips on what to look for as we buy from the fishers. First, ask when the boat went out and when it returned. If the boat only has an ice hold then four or five days is acceptable. If the ship has a freezer hold, longer trips are okay. Examine the fish for damaged scales/skin. The less “handled” your fish is, the better it will taste (it’s also a sign of freshness). Ask about the fillet fee, a flat charge per fish, usually between $2 and $4. “Pay it,” Doerr advises. “They know what they’re doing.”
“When vessels have fish to sell, they’ll usually post a sign by the entrance to their dock,” explains Doerr. On the day we visit in late August, albacore tuna, Chinook salmon, red rockfish, black cod and live Dungeness crab are available for sale.
We saunter over to the Chelsea Rose and opt for red rockfish. We ask those de rigeur questions and arrive at acceptable conclusions. A four-pound fish—after the filleting fee of $2—costs us about $20.
We feast on that fish—seasoned with dill, garlic, and lemon pepper—later that day. Sea-to-vessel-to-table works—deliciously!—for me.
Find more information at seagrant.oregonstate.edu/outreach-and-engagement/shop-dock. Plan travels to Newport, Oregon, at discovernewport.com, and Garibaldi, Oregon, at visitgaribaldi.org.