NEWPORT — As Newport’s crab fleet got underway for the first day of the commercial Dungeness crab season on Tuesday, Dec. 31, family, friends and community members gathered at Yaquina Bay State Park to offer prayers for safety and a bountiful harvest.
And while a large group was circled up to pray on land, Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay’s 52-foot motor lifeboat Victory was passing by on the water. On board was Pastor Luke Frechette, from South Beach Church, whose prayer was broadcast on the radio, streamed live on Facebook and aired over the Coast Guard channel monitored by the fishermen. Also on board was Sharon Biddinger, a Newport businesswoman and wife of a crab fisherman, who started this annual Crab Blessing ceremony five years ago.
“Because my husband’s a fisherman, I really wanted to put something together to bring the community together to pray for the fishermen, specifically for crab season because it’s so dangerous,” Biddinger said about her idea to begin this event. “And now my 17-year-old son is out there … next year my other son will be out there.”
This time set aside to pray for the crab fleet started out small, but it quickly grew.
“It was really for, like, a handful of our friends — we gathered together,” said Biddinger of the first event. “And then the next year it grew, and then we wanted to make it a community event from the second year, to open it up to everybody. It’s grown a lot. It’s really nice because there’s so many families, and there’s so many dynamics with the community people. It’s nice to come together and support each other.
“The thing that I really love about the Crab Blessing is bringing everybody together,” added Biddinger. “For those of us who are watching our kids cross the bar, and our husbands and our brothers, for us to have the community involved in that is just really special for us. I feel probably closest to this community during crab season.”
Tia Retherford helped to organize the crowd that gathered at the observation deck at Yaquina Bay State Park — that location is known by many locals as “Chicken Point.” Retherford is the daughter of Steve Beard, captain of the F/V Golden Pisces. She and her husband, Mikey Retherford Jr., co-own two fishing vessels out of Newport — the F/V Winona J and the F/V Mandy J. Having grown up in the fishing community, she knows what families are going through and also appreciates the support of the community.
“It means a lot as a wife because I already came up here before and would pray and watch my husband go out,” said Retherford. “And now you feel like you have a whole support system of people that also share in, as a community, that this is our fishing fleet. These are all our men and women that are out there, so it’s really nice to have the support, and it’s pretty powerful, actually.”
The crab season finally got going on Dec. 31 after a month-long delay, called for by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife because the crab were still undersized when the season was originally set to open on Dec. 1. Delays in the opening of the season do take a toll on the fishermen and their families, said Retherford.
“It makes a huge difference,” she said. “There’s two things. One, financially, there’s a lot of boats that only do certain fisheries. So they might only crab and shrimp. Luckily for us we do have multiple fisheries, but still, financially, it sets you back. But for other fishermen, this is it. They are waiting. They have nothing in between October and (now). So, financially, it hurts.
“The other part is, there is stress that comes with it because you’re spending all this time preparing for a fishery and wondering if it’s going to happen,” Retherford said. “So you can feel it (stress). You can feel it in your house, even though there isn’t anything said … you can feel it, your kids can feel it, and then you come down on the Bayfront, and you can feel it on the Bayfront.”
As a local pastor, Frechette said he is honored to be asked to pray for the commercial fishermen.
“I grew up in Newport, and I didn’t have the appreciation that I do now for our fishing community,” he said. “I think it’s growing in the community, the appreciation and support. It’s an honor for me to be a part of the community in that way, too.”
Frechette said while he was aboard the motor lifeboat Victory, one member of the boat crew told him she has served in the Coast Guard at several locations along the West Coast, “and she’s never seen such community support for the fishing vessels. I basically take it for granted, or just don’t know any better, but I think that was a real high compliment for our community with the amount of people gathering.”