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Community Based Fishing in Port Orford
Published: 02/11/2014

The fishermen of Port Orford Sustainable Seafood are wild about their haul, habitats and heritage.

In a remote fishing town, on the most westerly tip of the continent, a 40-foot commercial fishing boat swings from a massive yellow crane high above the churning waters. Port Orford is home to the only dry dock on the Western seaboard. Boats are lowered into the ocean then winched back to safety when they return to dock. Out on the heaving seas, local fishermen aren't just reeling in the catch; they're acting as ocean stewards and ecological trailblazers.

There were rumblings in Washington, DC about the need for Marine Reserves, to protect and preserve dwindling fish populations. Concerned that their voices weren't being heard, the fishermen of Port Orford brought together local scientists, conservationists, policy-makers and legal experts and hammered out a strategy that would ensure that local knowledge and local interests weren't just heard, they would become the engine that powered decisions about the fate of their traditional fishing grounds. Driven by the philosophy that jobs go hand in hand with conservation; that long-term, multi-generational prosperity is anchored in preserving the habitats they fish; they created a plan that protected the entire ecosystem, from the lowliest reef-dweller, through land-based watersheds, to the humans who make their living off the ocean.

The plan designated the Port Orford Stewardship Area, covering 1,320 square miles – 385 miles of terrestrial and 935 square miles of ocean habitat, where fishing would be permitted. It also established the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve where all extractive practices (fishing, crabbing and the removal of marine life) would be prohibited and where local scientists now study the topography of the ocean floor, migration patterns of local schools, underwater flora and the long-term impact of marine reserves.

It's not just the designated fishing zone and off-limits area that ensures Port Orford Sustainable Seafoods (POSS) fishermen are going to leave the ocean well-stocked for generations to come, it's the way they fish. Longlining with ganglions, trolling with lures and jigging with a rod and reel – POSS fishermen land fish the old-fashioned way, one at a time. Using selective hook-and-line gear minimizes by-catch, discards and habitat destruction. As stewards of the sea, POSS fishermen limit their catch to Albacore Tuna, Chinook Salmon, Lingcod, Black Cod, Halibut, Cabezon and Rockfish along with the occasional Spiney Dog Fish, Long-Nosed Skate and Wolf Eel. They're particularly keen to safeguard those Big Old Fat Fertile Female Fish (BOFFF's) who produce more babies the older they get.

POSS fishermen know where each fish they sell was landed and by whom. You can buy a share of their seasonal catch through their Community Supported Fishery (CSF), similar to a farm share CSA. So whether it's parmesan encrusted halibut or miso and ginger Sablefish for dinner, buying from POSS ensures your plate is filled with a sustainably harvested fish. It's not just good for you, it's good for the planet. As a direct result of POSS' forward-thinking stewardship, old-fashioned fishing techniques and gritty determination to bring local knowledge and local solutions to a global threat, the ocean may survive to feed and support the next generation. - By Kathryn Pickford

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