The Concept

Learning to Tong Oysters

The daily loss of commercial fishing family heritage demands immediate action.

Therefore, Coastal Heritage Alliance is proceeding with thoughtful and deliberate steps to ensure quality, long lasting constructive results through its innovative approach to the maintenance and sustainability of this threatened American way of life. CHA’s primary focus will be to assist fishing families in passing on their heritage to new generations within their own communities and to the broader public audience.

Coastal Heritage Alliance will become an organization composed of individuals, vessels, skills, and stories that are representative of commercial fishing family traditions as they still exist in various regions along the North American seaboard. A small number of culturally significant retired fishing boats will be selected, procured, restored, and maintained in operational condition to facilitate the organization’s mission both dockside and at sea.

Initially, CHA does not anticipate ownership of land-based headquarters; but, will seek out hailing ports around the North American coastline to station individual vessels within its historic fleet. Dockage will be secured through partnerships arranged with municipalities, museums, educational institutions, and other maritime entities as may be appropriate and advantageous to CHA’s public programming goals.

The vessels will be utilized as a portal or passageway to the discovery of the fisheries and fishing family cultural heritage at selected sites. While dockside, each boat will become an interpretive center accessible to the general public. Occasionally, each boat will be used as a narrative stage and learning hub where traditions and maritime skills are passed on.

On a seasonal basis, each historic vessel will embark on research and documentation voyages. Traveling to the actual fishing grounds, observing fishers at work and visiting fishing family communities will be the ongoing critical work of CHA. Still photography, field drawings, video, written text, and audio recordings are some techniques that will be used to capture and preserve aspects of fishing family life. Goodwill and relationship building will be key to CHA’s long term effectiveness within these close-knit populations.

As deemed appropriate, fishers, their families, their skills, and their stories will be incorporated into program curriculum presented to the general public through a variety of venues both dock side and at sea. Through this involvement in the organizations education work, fishing families will reinforce ties to their own culture each time they articulate a story or teach a skill. Their incorporation will enhance each learning experience by adding authenticity and credibility to all of CHA’s public programming activities.

Once established, CHA will orchestrate and repeat this three-phase process of research, documentation, and programming on a yearly cycle within each region. Partnering with other local, regional, and national organizations may be possible and beneficial to the growth and success of these efforts.

Beginning with a modest first step of one vessel, CHA will open a portal site in Puget Sound with the potential to research northward through the Inside Passage of British Columbia and South East Alaska. The intent is to create this initial site in the maritime town of Gig Harbor, Washington at the Skansie Brothers Park. The primary focus would be on the heritage of commercial salmon fishing families and on the history of wooden fishing boat construction within the region. To accomplish this, CHA will secure the use of the 65’ retired purse seine vessel Commencement, built in Gig Harbor by Skansie Shipbuilding Co. in 1926, and converted to a charter vessel in 1995. The Commencement will be used for dockside interpretation, skill training, research and documentation trips, and sea going programs. Opportunities do exist to partner with the town of Gig Harbor and and other like minded organizations at this location.

As resources allow, the use of other watercraft, and a portal site established in the Chesapeake Bay in the mid-Atlantic region, would be secured. Possibilities do exist for CHA to acquire the use of a culturally significant working vessel in this area. The lower Eastern Shore region of Maryland would most likely become the base of operation because of its proximity to numerous authentic commercial fishing communities.

While the Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay sites are being developed, a coastal exchange of fishing family tradition bearers will be undertaken. The transfer of skills and stories, of issues and concerns from one region to another will provide the opportunity for a rich mix of cross-cultural awareness, appreciation, support, and celebration. The exchange will be a unique and beneficial educational experience for fishing families and others interested in learning first hand about this threatened North American maritime culture.

Expansion of portal sites will continue as funding allows, with CHA establishing programs in other coastal areas such as New England, Northern California, the Gulf states, Alaska, and others. Achievement of these goals will depend upon ongoing constructive affiliation and alliance-building with fishing families and the present structures which support them. It is anticipated that the establishment and favorable operation of CHA’s inaugural portal site in Puget Sound will set the pace and become a model program for export to these other regions.