the south end of the waterfront, near Eureka's biggest shopping mall
and the string of fast-food joints that front on Highway 101, sits
a big green warehouse. Inside, Ken Bates, owner of Cloudburst Fishing
Company, is winding black, tarred twine onto a needle. He's rehanging
a net for an anchovy fisherman. Part of the net is piled in the middle
of the floor and another part is stretched end to end like a sagging
tennis court net. It's a blustery Monday afternoon in February, and
the shop rattles in the wind while eucalyptus leaves drop heavily
onto the murky skylights.
Bates, 56, moved to Eureka from San Pedro in 1970. My dad was
a marine electrician technician, and my grandfather was a tuna
fisherman," he says. He has fished since he was 15, for herring,
salmon, lobster, crab--whatever the season and his schedule call
for. He's also built about 40 fishing boats and, now and then,
made a net for himself or other fishermen. I love what I do,"
he says, adding that, of course, he ekes out a living, but that
isn't why he combines fishing with craft. A good fisherman needs
to know how to build gear."
Then he tells a joke: A fisherman's wife has just given birth to
a boy after several hours of labor during which the fisherman had
fretted noisily about losing valuable fishing time. The doctor says,
I can tell the boy's going to be a fisherman too." How can you
tell that?" asks the fisherman. Because he came out crying," says
the doctor. Fishermen, says Bates, are always crying."
It's just the nature of the business, he adds. But local fishermen--like
fishermen everywhere--have had plenty to cry about. Over the past
30 years of the fishing industry's decline, Eureka's fleet lost the
dominant place on the waterfront it had occupied for more than 100
years. Bates explains it this way: Native Americans fished these
waters for thousands of years. The modern commercial fishing fleet
got its start 150 years ago, when Eureka became a city, and it prospered
as technology improved and fishermen were able to catch more and
more fish. That created more demand from the public, and the fleet--like
fleets everywhere--expanded. In the late 1970s, the fishing industry
overall began to crash as overfishing led to a depletion in certain
stocks. Subsequent imposition of regulations aimed at recovery put
a further squeeze on commercial fishermen. As the fisheries and associated
businesses shrank, the waterfront began to decay. Meanwhile, people
began to see waterfronts as nice places to live, eat, and enjoy themselves.
Eureka, like other cities, began to cast about for ways to diversify
its shoreline and make it pay, leading the clout-deficient fishermen
to fear they would be edged out of the harbor completely by a fleet
of shiny new shops.
Tourists, visitor-serving things, non-water-dependent uses right
on the waterfront--all those things affect the fishing fleets," Bates
says. All it takes, he says, is for someone in one of those shops
on a dandied-up waterfront, next to a colorful" working fish dock,
to catch a whiff from all that industry and exclaim, God, the bait
on those boats smells--let's get 'em outta here!" And the smaller
the boats, the greater the effect. It puts them out of business.
"It's happened here in Eureka in the last 60
he says. "It used to be from the foot of I Street to Washington Street
was all fish plants, fish unloading spots, and fishing boats tied
up. So, the fishing fleet--at first we used to fight with the City."
But now things are looking up, Bates says, because the City has finally
worked the commercial fishing fleet prominently into its waterfront