ILWACO — A new sustainable seafood market opened over the weekend in Ilwaco.
Fishpeople of Ilwaco officially opened Friday, Sept. 4 at 151 Howerton Ave. along the Port of Ilwaco offering fresh, seasonal seafood from local fishermen and shellfish farmers.
“Our intention is to serve the general public with products that are coming off the boat,” said partner Mike Shirley, who co-owns Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, a commercial seafood offloading facility that will primarily supply the market less than a mile away.
Hungry demand for fresh seafood
On Friday afternoon, customers began streaming through the door seeking fresh seafood.
Among the offerings were whole Dungeness crab caught by the F/V Rachel Lynn, Columbia River sturgeon from F/V Ocean Thunder, black cod from F/V Mar-C, troll-caught Chinook from F/V Lady Lee, and fresh albacore tuna.
The first sale was for sturgeon and salmon, Shirley said. Other products from nearby processors included Dungeness crab meat from Bornstein Seafood and Pacific Oysters from Jolly Roger.
New seafood source
The new market comes amid a deepening consumer demand for fresh, sustainable seafood. In recent months, seafood supply and distribution lines have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which hastened the closure of some longstanding seafood businesses that were already on the brink, including Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Market, Ole Bob’s Café and Market, and the Warrenton Deep Sea Market.
On the north side of the Columbia estuary, closure of two prominent seafood businesses left a void at the Port of Ilwaco docks.
“The need of this service in this town is significant,” said Shirley, who joined the Ilwaco Port Commission in October 2019.
“And so is working in conjunction with the other businesses. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” he said.
The market will feature the different catch depending on the season, including Dungeness crab, salmon, black cod, rockfish, tuna and halibut. Willapa Bay-sourced shellfish, including clams and oysters will be offered as well.
The front room will operate as a retail market with a traditional deli-style display of the days’ catch.
“You can buy things that were offloaded hours ago,” Shirley said. On Friday, the first day of business, locally harvested seafood arrived throughout the day, including a delivery of Manila clams from Ernie Soule.
Fishpeople Seafood products will also be available, including a line of soups, chowders and canned tuna.
“You can buy 200 pounds of tuna to can at home, or you can come in and buy 200 cans of tuna,” Shirley said. A backroom space will contain live-crab holding tanks and freezers.
Growing sustainable seafood network
The new market in Ilwaco is the latest branch in an expanding sustainable seafood network.
Front Door Fish is part of the Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, a fleet-integrated seafood wholesaler, that started with sport fishermen Shirley and Scott Kastengren. Today, the wholesaler has grown to include more than 100 boats during certain seasons.
In 2016, they acquired the Tillamook Bay Boathouse in Garibaldi to serve more fishermen and provide additional processing and offloading facilities for the growing fleet. In 2017, they established the Garibaldi-based Front Door Fish, a global direct-to-consumer seafood distribution platform.
The new market in Ilwaco was partially inspired by success with a similar business model in Garibaldi.
“We have the same setup in Garibaldi, where we have a retail market on the water at our facility,” Shirley said.
“Our retail location at [Ilwaco Landing] would be difficult at best. This is the ideal location. I wasn’t necessarily looking to starting something here, but with Jessie’s retail going and Ole Bob’s going, we felt there was a strong need for the community.”
The market will work in conjunction with other processors to provide sustainable seafood from outside the area.
“We have access to a lot of different products whether we land it or not,” Shirley said.
“The biggest thing is sustainable practices, that we didn’t kill whales or dolphins or leave a massive carbon footprint, and making sure the people who caught that fish are taken care of. We want to be good stewards of the ocean. We consider this the front door of the Pacific.”
Shirley is also planning the eventual opening of a retail fish market in Hood River, the third location including Garibaldi and Ilwaco.