Photo by Shane Harms
Nine eighty-foot power-schooners of Seattle’s halibut longline fleet will be showcased along the waterfront near Museum of History and Industry for a few days. There will be a parade for boats leaving the Fishermen's Terminal dock 3 at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13.

FVOA celebrates centennial and new halibut schooner exhibit at Center for Wooden Boats

The Fishing Vessels Owners Association (FVOA) is celebrating their centennial this Saturday Feb 15. and in their honor the Center for Wooden Boats will showcase the boats of the era with a new exhibit.

Nine eighty-foot power-schooners of Seattle’s halibut longline fleet will be showcased along the waterfront near the Museum of History and Industry for a few days. There will be a parade for boats leaving Fishermen's Terminal dock 3 at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13.

Most of boats will remain in front of MOHAI for a couple of days and will usher in the Center for Wooden Boat’s exhibit called Highliners: Boats of the Century. The exhibit covers the evolution of the halibut schooners and their role in the maritime industry. They have collected over 200 interviews from current fishermen and “old timers” who fished in these power schooners. The exhibit opens February 14th, 2014. For more information on CWB website visit http://cwb.org/events/highliner/.

Robert Alverson, General Manager of FVOA, said that that the amazing thing about these boats is that they were built on the shores of Salmon Bay and many of them are in use today. Once there was a fleet of 150, but now there are about 20 actively fishing and remain a vital part of the economic vitality of the community.

“The Center For Wooden Boats focused on our fleet and they are putting together 200 to 300 hours of interviews from crews that are working now and fishermen dating back to the days of the dories. Coral Batteen (Executive Assistant for FVOA) has really helped out a lot and done a marvelous job. We are very excited about the whole thing,” said Alverson.

The Fishing Vessel Owners' Association started in December of 1914 and members are made up of longline fishermen. It was formed to address the needs of halibut boat owners involved in longline fishing.

According to their website, FVOA was one of the original organizations that helped consolidate Canadian and U.S. fishermen to form the International Pacific Halibut Commission in 1924. They were also heavily involved in forming the International Pacific Fisheries Commission between Japan, Canada and the U.S. in 1952. In 1974, Harold E. Lokken, FVOA’s past Manager of 52 years, drafted the original bill for the 200 Mile legislation, which helped form the industry into what it is today.

Incidentally, the late Harold E. Lokken was the grandson of ship builder, John Strand. Strand built some of the schooners that will be moored at MOHI on Feb. 13.

According to Drawing on Our History, by historian and painter, Jim Cole, Strand emigrated from Norway in 1887 at the age of 43 years old and built boats in Tacoma and then Ballard. Some of the halibut schooners still in use today were built by Strand, including the Tordenskjold and the Polaris.

“There’s a drawing in my book that shows how they were built, but what’s significant is that was the only drawing that these men needed to build the boats – that was all they needed then. Its not like it is today,” said Cole.

“These men were fishermen and boat builders, so the boats had a real significance and were part of the family, as well as their lively hood. The effort and love that it took to build and maintain them is very personal and that links to the heritage of the community.”

Though initially built as sailing vessels, most had engines installed. The design of these boats is still the one used today U.S., Scandinavia and other parts of Northern Europe.

According to Cole, before longlining the halibut fleet used dories (smaller boats) to fish. Usually two fishermen would occupy a dory and launch from the Schooner and set baited lines. After leaving the lines alone for 2 hours, a method called “soaking”, the men would pull them up and collect the fish, filling the dory. Good overall catches were near 2,00 pounds. After all the dories were collected and stacked on the deck, the crew would clean the fish.

Halibut schooner cleaning area
Peering into halibut schooner, Grant. Photo taken from dock 3 at Fisherman's Terminal.

There was a change from dory use to longliners around 1930 and large crews were unnecessary, and so 20 member crews shrunk to 5 to 6. Moreover, the longliner gears allowed for more species to fish for including Pacific Cod.

Abby Inapanbutr, who has been working as a photographer and exhibit designer with the Center for Wooden Boats for the last year, wrote to the Ballard News Tribune:

“The history of the fleet is deeply tied to Ballard and its Scandinavian heritage. The project has included documentary photography, research, oral history interviews. ... I have been a resident of Ballard for many years, and I know this is an important story for the community.”

Inapanbutr has had a love for fishing vessel most of her life, and recently the halibut schooner, Republic. Inapanbutr had the unique opportunity of being a passenger with the crew en route to Alaska during the opening of halibut season a few seasons ago.

“The boats are beautiful and hearing all the people’s stories makes a difference, connecting their boats to their lives and all of our history,” said Inapanbutr.

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