Salty Girl of the Month: Heather Sears, Princess Seafoods

Since we launched Salty Girl Seafood, one of the first things that people say is how much they love the name. Often we are asked, what does it mean to be a Salty Girl?  

salty: of the sea, sailing or life at sea.

This is a series of blogs honoring our kindred Salty Girls--women whose lives and livelihoods revolve around all things ocean.

Imagine a spending the day on a gray, glassy ocean, seabirds careening overhead, working alongside some of your best girl friends to land beautiful fish after beautiful fish. For this month’s Salty Girl, Heather Sears, this scene is all in a day’s work. Of course, for every scene like this there’s a few more that are plagued with heavy seas and snotty weather, busted gear, and no fish in sight. But at the end of the day, it’s the rawness and unpredictability that keeps her fishing seven months of every year.

Heather Sears, F/V Princess

Heather Sears, F/V Princess

Heather runs her boat, the F/V Princess, with an all female crew out of Fort Bragg, CA.  We first learned of Heather from our friend, fishing legend Jeremiah O’Brien, captain of the F/V Aguero, the boat where Heather first began her life as a fisherman when she was just 10 years old fishing alongside her dad. Heather epitomizes all of the things we love about those who make their living on the ocean--strong, independent, hard-working--and couples these traits with the business and tech savvy to market herself and her fish in a way that connects everyone more closely to the ocean.

An all women seafood company and and all women fishing vessel seemed too good to be true. We’re beyond excited to announce that we are buying wild Alaska coho salmon from Heather and her crew. Look for the story of the F/V Princess in some of our Wild Alaskan Salmon Bites, as well as our Smoked Coho Salmon! Here’s to Salty Girls all over the world working together advance the health of our oceans! Check out our interview with Heather (HS), below.

SG: What do you love most about the ocean?
HS: I have a real love/hate relationship with the ocean. The ambivalence comes from too many days at sea, year after year in a boat just a little too small for the fisheries imposed on her.  It's almost like being in an abusive relationship with an utterly entrancing but volatile partner.  One trip will be just hellish. Being thrown around for days, not catching, equipment breaking, tired, bruised and scared.  And the next trip could be the exact opposite. Sparkly calm seas, hungry fish, breathtaking displays of beauty, nearly surreal in intensity. There is always the nagging feeling of complete dependence on your machinery for your very life. Without it you are dead in very short order. I keep coming back though. The ocean affords me a rare and precious lifestyle. One which I get to be part of the food chain, a top predator chasing a challenging prey, working by the seasons not by the calendar, not by the time card but the wind. Chasing a prey, the king of salmon, that I have the deepest respect and admiration for. A wonder that hasn't waned since I watched my dad pull the first one over the rail when I was ten. Could there be a thing more beautiful than a gleaming silver purple salmon. I might love them the most.

SG: Who first got you hooked on the sea?
HS: I started commercial fishing at ten years old with my father on our family's 48 foot Aguero out of Morro Bay. That first summer, fishing off Bodega Bay I saw a leatherback turtle surface that was as big as the stern. I saw the full moon above the Golden Gate Bridge throw a shadow on us as we passed under. At night I laid awake in my rolling bunk, a stones throw from the south Farallon island and listened to a million shrimp clicking below me, a million sea birds screaming above. I worked side by side with my dad during a hot king salmon bite in pea soup fog and dad told me my work was important, I was feeding people. I was hooked.

SG: When you’re not on the ocean, what are you doing?
HS: As my friends Joel and Tele put it with their boat, I am repaying the Princess for her service.  It seems like the hours of maintenance are endless. But shoreside efforts lead to better a night’s sleep when you’re drifting around offshore.    

Photo credit: allandoryanphotography

SG: When you close your eyes and think about your favorite time on the water, what do you see?
HS: Anytime the magical trio occurs: flat ocean, no boats, a fish on every hook. It doesn't get much better.

SG: What do you never leave home without?
HS: My salty fish dogs Julie and Chloe. They are schipperkes, bred for boats, and have fished full time for the last 7 years. They are tough, surefooted and sassy little hounds that make me laugh everyday.

SG: What does a healthy ocean look like to you?
HS: A healthy ocean looks different in different places and at different times of year. But it always looks like a myriad of beautiful and terrifying creatures eating each other and being eaten.   

SG: What do you think people can do to most benefit the ocean and its ecosystems?
HS: Some "easy" things I suggest to people include:

  • Support US fisheries. Ask for wild domestic caught seafood at the fish counter and in restaurants. We (US commercial fishermen) don't get nearly enough credit in the media for our science-based and very conservative fisheries management. Though flawed, our system is still one of the best in the entire world. Still, 90 percent of our seafood is imported, and most of that fish is farmed or caught in the wild in countries with much less regulation than us. That's why it's so cheap. The oceans are paying the price.
  • Cut down on disposable plastic use.

  • Vote for politicians who support dam removal and fresh water policies that consider our struggling salmon populations.  Californians can check out groups like Restore the Delta, Golden Gate Salmon Association and IFR.