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OPINION: Bell Tones - Dockside does fish right, thanks to fishermen

The Dockside Market, a direct line between seafood harvester and consumer - your eye on the waterfront recommends a visit

The F/V Eric, a fishing boat originally built in 1964 and refurbished by Pete and Chelsea Keutmann. 38 feet long, Eric was the first ship in the Sea to Shore fleet. // Photo courtesy of Chelsea Keutmann

Many of us attend the weekly Bellingham Farmers Market held each Saturday in downtown’s Depot Market Square. Offering food, art and clothing, it’s long been one of my favorite weekend outings in my 17 years living in Bellingham. 

Never had I heard of the other farmers market that Bellingham offers. Well, to be entirely fair, that’s because it isn’t a farmers market, but rather a fishers market. The Bellingham Dockside Market, on the first and third Saturdays of every month for the past three years, has hosted local fishermen, allowing them to sell seafood directly to the consumer in the Fishermen’s Pavillion near Zuanich Park. 

The market has a website through the Port of Bellingham and a Facebook page where the participating vendors and products are posted before the week’s upcoming market. The next market is Saturday, December 16th, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

One of the initial participants in the Dockside Market was Sea to Shore Seafood Co. Initially based in Petersburg, Alaska, it was founded by Chelsea and Pete Keutmann, who prioritize traceability and transparency in their business.

“Education is highest priority for us, honestly, because that’s the only way to actually make sure the seafood you are consuming is ethically harvested, is coming from a sustainable practice that we’re doing, methods used that are all deemed sustainable, that our practice is fair, that the fishermen are being paid fair wages,” said Chelsea. “That is the most important part for us.”

Chelsea, who has fished for years, met her husband and co-founder Pete while he was in the U.S. Coast Guard. Pete and Chelsea moved to Bellingham specifically to pursue direct market opportunities.

I feel direct access to the producer is a cornerstone of positive, trustworthy business. At the Dockside Market, one can speak directly to who caught the food they purchase, building a personal relationship and learning more about the seafood industry. 

Though I often joke faux-indignantly about my status as a long-time Bellingham resident as opposed to the usual Western Washington University student who is only temporarily in town for school, it does genuinely matter to me that the Western community engages with Whatcom, culturally and economically.

This engagement also matters to Elisa Brackenhofer, who co-founded Slack Tide Fisheries with her husband Jace Rinker in 2018. Like the Keutmanns and Sea to Shore, Elisa values support for local fishermen and hopes that direct markets can better connect the community with its fishers.

“That’s where Dockside basically has changed that for us as fishermen, those of us that are direct marketing our catch, it has given us that avenue,” Brackenhofer said. “I think it has also connected a lot of Bellingham people to the fisheries they didn’t know existed in their backyard.”

Indeed, I agree with these local fishermen. Support for the local seafood industry is critical, especially to prevent total dominance of the market by large corporations – and creating these direct connections allows people to learn more about the supply chain and build personal relationships.

“What Dockside allows us to do is [that] we are seeing our salmon through to the customer. We basically own that entire supply chain now, and we are able to connect our direct community to salmon whereas traditionally that is kind of a gray area for most people,” Brackenhofer said. “You go to the grocery store and buy salmon but you pretty much don’t know where it’s from, and we don’t know what happens to our salmon.”

I encourage the reader to learn more about the businesspeople and community leaders that constitute our working waterfront. Bellingham’s maritime industry and cultural center is an engine powering the city and county, and by extension, campus. If consuming seafood is as much of an obsession for you as it is for me, you ought to visit the next Dockside Market.

Finn Kurtz

Finn Kurtz (they/he) is the Opinion and Outreach Editor of The Front for summer quarter. He is a history and political science double major and a journalism/news editorial minor in their fourth year at Western. In his free time, he enjoys looking in bookstores, going on walks in the woods, and trivia. 

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