Faces of U.S. Seafood: Q&A w/ Mitzi Hathaway

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Buying wild-caught American seafood makes a difference to the economy and your health. The Partners of Commercial Fishermen (PCF) promote awareness by sharing their lives in and around the industry. Together, we are the faces behind each catch.

“Ian was the last person to see or talk to one of his best friends. As well as being a tourism and event coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce of Florence, Oregon, I own my own floral design and event planning business. I’d really love if I never had to design or help plan another memorial for a fishing brother again.”

Mitzi Hathaway on the memorial for fisherman Josh Porter, one of three fishermen who died on the capsized Mary B II

Mitzi doesn’t sugarcoat her experience of being a partner of a commercial fisherman.

She lays it out: the pain, the fear, and the sadness that is a part of the lifestyle that many don’t realize going into it or understand as a whole.

And that’s ok!

This series was created to introduce you to the people behind each catch.

(And if you’re still reading, thank you for being here! You make a difference through your willingness to understand the importance of buying American wild-caught seafood ❤️)

The following is a deeply personal account of what life can be like when your man is out at sea.

Meet Mitzi:

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Who’s your fisherman?

Ian Wood. He’s worked as a deckhand, engineer, and captain and he loves doing it all.

What is the name of his boat?

F/V Kona Kai.

Other boats he’s worked on are:
F/V Cinda S. out of Westport, WA
F/V Williapa Maid of Ilwaco, WA
F/V Sea Ho, F/V Bev A., and F/V Hilma fleet of Moss Landing, California
F/V Bering Prowler out of Seattle, WA
F/V Lady Alaska, F/V Destination, F/V Time Bandit, F/V Kona Kai out of the Bering Sea, Alaska
F/V Widgeon and F/V Kristen Gail in Newport, Oregon

(F/V = Fishing Vessel)

What does he fish?

He’s a generational fisherman who grew up in Westport, Washington. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather.

Some of the fisheries are opilio crab, Dungeness crab, red king crab, cod, squid, salmon, and tuna – once his favorite – due to his mentor Mike Shedore who was a leader in the industry.

Where does he fish?

Dutch Harbor and Homer Alaska. Last year he worked out of Newport, Oregon during Dungeness, salmon and tuna seasons. He fished for opilio and cod so far in 2020 on the F/V Kona Kai.

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How long have you been together?

2.5 years but have been close friends for 8 years.

Did you have experience with the fishing industry before you got together? If so, in what way?

We met when I was the VIP Guest Relations Director for the Commercial Fishermen’s Festival in Astoria, Oregon in 2011. So, yes, I had other friends in the industry which made me a West Coast commercial fishing industry advocate.

However, my friendship and relationship with Ian have made me a vocal advocate for the public awareness of boat-to-plate education, in relation to the economic importance commercial fishing plays to coastal towns on the West Coast.

What tips can you share with others navigating this PCF life?

  • You must have an independent spirit with passion, interests, and personal goals separate from your fisherman.
  • It’s helpful to have a career of your own that’s able to support the household on your income in case of a season delay, bad fishing, strike, boat mechanical issues or injury. One of the biggest reasons that we chose to live within the means of my salary, is so he doesn’t have to worry about sending money or paying the bills. His complete focus is on his job doing what he loves to do, knowing I am handling things on my end so he’s out there for the right reasons. His dedication is to the boat. His loyalty is to us both. His salary is for our adventures when he’s home and for our retirement. I work for now, he works for our future.
  • You need to be flexible and it takes an abundance of TRUST, COMMUNICATION and the ability to work as a TEAM.
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What is the hardest part of being a PCF?

  • The unknowing of when a season will start or end.
  • The inability to set plans in stone.
  • Having to take care of issues that arise at home alone.
  • Spending holidays and special dates without your love. This past crab/cod season Ian was gone during Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, my son’s birthday, Super Bowl (we’re huge NFL fans), Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day (we’re both Irish), along with a dozen events, including a gala that I had been planning for months with my position as the Event and Tourism Development Coordinator for the Florence Chamber of Commerce.
  • Knowing you may not get a call when you want or need but dropping everything when you do. I’ve had to excuse myself out of important meetings or social events to take calls from Ian when he finally gets into service range. It’s an understanding I must make upfront with people in my life.
  • Driving thousands of miles over the years to see him come into ports, only to see him for a day or two and see him off again.
  • Having to try and sync both our careers.
  • The adjustment period when he gets home. After being at sea for months, it not only takes time to get used to being on land again (usually about 72 hours), but it takes him time to get into a sleeping pattern (about a week). Also, it takes time for him to get used to my schedule and fall back into home life without feeling like an outsider and guest.
  • The worrying for his safety. Watching weather reports, knowing that he’s out there doing one of the deadliest jobs in the world.
  • The days that go by with no word during busy seasons, like crab season.
  • You learn that no news is good news in the commercial fishing world. However, having a Garmin InReach Satellite communication device helps us communicate now. Technology is a gift that wasn’t possible not long ago when they were out of cell service range.

What is the most fun?

  • Spending time with him on the boats. I’ve spent weeks helping him with gear work.
  • Seeing him off and welcoming him into port. Reunions are the best.
  • Stayed many nights staying on the boats when in port, on pump watch, or just gearing up the boat for the season or switching over for the next season.
  • Grocery shopping for the crew.
  • Cleaning the boat in-between trips.
  • Staying in port with him and getting to know his fishing brothers.
  • Waking up on the boat to the sounds and smells of the ocean while he cooks me breakfast.
  • When he comes home, all the fishing stories and boat pictures during the season and upon his return.
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What does being a partner of a commercial fisherman mean to you?

It’s a lifestyle many outsiders don’t understand.

It’s being ready for anything at a moment’s notice, including packing for a trip thinking he may have to report at one port on a certain day, only to learn that he needs that be at another port on a different day.

It’s about being flexible and understanding. The need to put his career over all else, including yours, more times than not.

It means having a network of friends that make up your commercial fishing family. You are not only worried about him, but you are also worried about his fishing brothers as well.

It means not realizing how many memorials you’ve attended for those who never made it home, so you end up not talking about your fears to anyone. Instead, you light a candle before you go to sleep, pray that someone is watching over him when you cannot. On the bad nights, when you’ve received horrific news of another boat going down, you feel helpless. So, the only thing you can do is bury your face in his pillow, think of the families who have been given the news you fear the most, and cry yourself to sleep hoping you won’t be next.

Outsiders talk of the paycheck. I am often told, “Well, think of the money he’s making.” You can’t put a price on a person when that person is the center of your world. Money doesn’t take away the pain in my chest. I don’t fully breathe until he is safely into port after each trip. If we were given a dollar for every time I cried out of fear, out of miscommunication or frustration between us, for every thought and problem at home I’ve kept from him so he could focus on his task at hand, for every moment I’ve missed him, we’d have quadrupled his salary.

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How can others support our domestic seafood market?

Education is vital.

The majority of the seafood caught in the US is exported to Asian markets.

We have the best product in the world. However, most consumers in the U.S. have a “Walmart mentality.” They don’t care where the seafood on their plate comes from, as long as it’s cheap.

There’s a reason for that: the majority of seafood in major U.S. retailers comes from overseas.

Thailand, Singapore, and China are three of the big players. Much of it comes from (forced labor) or is farmed with few environmental or health regulations. The conditions on those boats and in those fish farms are deplorable.

If consumers knew the garbage that Tilapia or farmed salmon was fed or knew how it was processed, they would definitely not consume it nor ever complain again about the cost of wild, sustainable, fresh, healthy U.S. seafood.

It is up to us in the U.S. commercial fishing industry to educate the public. Not only on the quality and health benefits of purchasing only wild-caught U.S. seafood but also in the benefits of supporting local fishermen. The revenue that is created flows deep into the pockets of coastal communities, especially up and down the West Coast from boat owners, operators, crew, processors, fish markets, retail outlets, and restaurants.

Port towns are reliant on the commercial fishing industry for a major flow of revenue. Without it, many towns would dry up. That’s why the industry needs to be vocal.

Small business is the key to any local community, and commercial fishing leads the charge in that on the West Coast. 🐟

What are your thoughts as a consumer? Are you a partner of a commercial fisherman and can you relate? If so, please share in the comments below or join our private Facebook group!

If your loved one is a fisherman, JOIN THE PRIVATE GROUP, PARTNERS OF COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN HERE!

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In Case You Missed It:

Faces of U.S. Seafood: Q&A w/ Kinsey Justa

Faces of U.S. Seafood: Q&A w/ Savanah Lisherness

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