Monday, June 1, 2009

New Era

It was a cold, drizzly morning in Charleston, Oregon. Across the green mud flats and dredged shipping channel, a weathered fishing troller named “New Era” was tied up alongside the dock. She wasn’t going out to sea that day, and it appeared that some time had passed since her bow sliced through the strong Pacific currents. It is indeed a new era for fishermen along the Oregon and California coast, where for the past two years the commercial salmon season has been suspended and a state of “resource disaster” and “commercial fishery failure” has been declared. For many of the boats, skippers and crew in Charleston, and ports up and down the coast, staying in harbor is a harsh new reality.

I was in Charleston with a group of photographers from the Mountain Light Photo Workshops.  We were scouring the docks for images of colorful old boats and rusty textures. Now and then a weathered sailor would walk by wondering what all the fuss was about. Two young boat hands were overheard saying “There must  be sumthin’ photographic ‘round here. They’re everywhere.” We weren’t journalists looking for a story, just creative photographers looking for material.

For several days we had been photographing lighthouses, beaches, and happy scenes of natural beauty. In contrast, photographing in Charleston was both challenging and a bit depressing. You had to really stop, look, and think. What is the story here? How can I tell that story? 

When I made an image of Basin Tackle's storefront, I just thought it was a document of a typical building, covered in advertising. The lonely dog and empty parking lot exuded a feeling that more prosperous times were in the past. On closer inspection, the story was in the details. A salmon fishing closure sign was posted on the door. A big sign read: “Please, No Wave Energy, No Marine Reserves.” It was right next to an ad for “Monster Energy.” Such paradox! Caffeine and high fructose corn syrup is good, while renewable non-polluting energy harnessed from the ocean is bad. Taking fish, crab, and natural resources from the sea for money is good. But as for stewardship of the very eco-system that provides this source of lively-hood? Not in my backyard! 

The very day after we were in Charleston, the state house of representatives voted unanimously (51-0) in favor of an historic bill to complete an evaluation and timeline for implementation of six marine reserve sites recommended by the Governor’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council. (read more at:

Meanwhile, fishermen ate breakfast at the Basin CafĂ©, dogs waited patiently in parked cars, boats sat rusting in the harbor, and we drove back to Bandon for a lunch of Alaska salmon and halibut; another irony of the new era that reminded me of a fisherman's button which read: "Shop Local." Finding a sustainable balance in our local food supplies and the ecosystem at large is going to be a challenge and will take considerable sacrifice from all of us. But the consequences of not dealing with it today will clearly have ramifications well into the future.

© 2009 Jerry Dodrill, All Rights Reserved


Jessica Rogers said...

Jerry - wonderful images and thought-provoking words. Thank you for sharing.

chuck willer said...

Excellent photos and observations. The irony within Oregon's small fishing ports is everywhere.

Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images said...


Great stuff, images and writing. Looks like a very successful trip.



Coos Bay - Oregon's Adventure Coast said...

I'm so happy you found our little piece of the coast. I loved the photos and the emotion you captured, your photos are very poignant.

I'm sorry you didn't get to see more of Charleston, its incredibly beautiful and the people have such a quirky sense of humor.

I hope you'll read my blog about Charleston and you'll see what I mean about their sense of humor :)

Katherine Hoppe
Coos Bay - North Bend Visitor & Convention Bureau

Jerry Dodrill said...

Hi Katherine,
Thank you for your note. We had a delightful time in Charleston and on the Oregon Coast. The people were warm and wonderful and views spectacular. I'd very much like to spend more time up there developing a more in-depth look at the issues I touched on in the post and getting to know the people whose lives are affected by the fishing situation. Perhaps I'll touch base with you next time I head that way and discuss ideas on how to do this.


DeadwoodPete said...

Damn you are good.

Turning into a journalist?

If so, you are good.