Family, friends, and fellow fishermen gathered on Sunday for the 81st annual “Blessing of the Fleet,” a tradition established by the late Rev. O. L. Haavik of the Ballard First Lutheran Church. Nearly 100 people congregated at the Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle, including a number of elected public officials, sharing stories and hopes for the safety of their numbers and loved ones. As popularized by the Discovery Channel television hit, “The Deadliest Catch,” commercial fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, with some industries suffering nearly 100% injury rates to crewmembers, and higher mortality rates than nearly any other profession.
Many of those gathered at the Terminal know this all too well: the Seattle-based Alaska Ranger went down last year, taking five of its crew with it. There are few professional fishermen or women who haven’t lost close friends, family, or crewmates to the elements. These statistics are made doubly grim by the economic hit the industry is taking from the recession. So-called “luxury” seafoods, like halibut and some kinds of crab, are in less demand, and so may bring lower prices for those who risk their lives to catch them.
Still, many continue to be optimistic, and enjoy the sense of camaraderie that participation in the industry brings. And many are optimistic for them, like Reverend Tom Tocher, who led the ceremony on Sunday. “Say to the waves, ‘Peace. Be still,” he prayed for those in attendance. “You hold the hearts of people in the hollow of your hand.”
The benediction was bestowed upon Seattle fisherman Kurt Hansen’s vessel, the F/V Middleton, on behalf of the entire Pacific fleet.
* Photo from the Seattle Times.