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100 Years of Longline Fishing in Historic Power Schooners Celebrated in New Exhibit at The Center for Wooden Boats

February 13, 2014

Discover the Story of the Families and Boats of Seattle’s Historic Halibut Fleet and Celebrate the 100-year Anniversary of the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association

Highliners CWB


A boat parade is not all that unusual in Seattle.  We do it for Opening Day in May. We do it for Christmas Ships in December.  But Thursday February 13th’s boat parade is a little different.  It’s not a line of pleasure boats.  This is a parade of some of Seattle’s oldest commercial wooden fishing boats moving down the ship canal to take up positions at the Historic Ships Wharf near The Center for Wooden Boats to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association, and to mark the opening of CWB’s new exhibit that details the history of the longline schooners and the local crews who continue to take these boats to the North Pacific to bring halibut and Black Cod to your table.

The exhibit “Highliners: Boats of the Century” was designed to make sure Seattle understand the importance of these wooden boats that are still in service after 100 years. The new exhibit also highlights the advances in technology and fisheries management that members of the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association helped implement on these boats during the organization’s long history. Based at the Port of Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal, the fleet’s efforts over the past century have helped ensure the North Pacific halibut fishery is safe, efficient and sustainably managed.

“The sustainable fishing techniques this fleet developed are a key reason that Pacific Fisheries have not been over fished, and why they continue to bring thousands of jobs to Seattle’s economy,” said Betsy Davis, Executive Director of The Center for Wooden Boats. “We want to tell this story to highlight the connection Seattle has always had to the water, but also to make sure the community knows how this fleet’s history has led to its present success and will lead to its future…sometimes aboard boats FVOA member’s grandfathers had built.”


“When we contacted CWB about helping with our anniversary we were surprised, and pleased, that they already knew about our boats and wanted to do a full blown exhibit about the fleet and our members, “said Bob Alverson, Manager of the Fishing Vessel Owner’s Association. “The Space Needle, high tech campuses, stadiums and Boeing plants are a constant reminder to the community of those industries, but when Seattle’s fishing fleet is out over the horizon folks tend to forget about us.”

“Our local commercial fishing industry anchored at Fishermen’s Terminal, pours about $5 billion dollars into our economy every year through its fish catch and the thousands of jobs it sustains both on land and at sea,” said Port of Seattle Commission Co-President Stephanie Bowman. “We want to congratulate the members of FVOA on their 100 years of service to the community, and as we celebrate our own centennial at Fishermen’s Terminal this year, we’re proud to work with The Center for Wooden Boats to ensure Seattle has the chance to learn more about this still vibrant industry that calls this region home.”

The new exhibit features a timeline of Seattle based commercial fishing in the NW and information about the development of the FVOA Schooners and the characteristics that make them uniquely suited to northwest waters. The exhibit has photos of the boats still fishing today and maps marking important shipyards. Video oral histories of select FVOA members are part of the exhibit, as is a reconnaissance survey of the FVOA fleet that includes histories of the boats, current and those long gone, with longer highlights about selected boats; including some boat plans from the collection of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. As part of the project, CWB is also working with the International Pacific Halibut Commission to digitize many of the photos they have stored on unstable nitrate negatives which are in danger of deteriorating. Some of those images are being used in the exhibit.

“Highliners: Boats of the Century” was conceived by former CWB Historic Projects Manager Andrew Washburn and designed by curator Abby Inpanbutr. Their last exhibit collaboration at CWB, “FishON!”, won an award as the best new historical museum exhibit in King County in 2013. “A lot of times when you’re putting together a history exhibit, the thing you are talking about is long gone,” said Inpanbutr. “But in this case it’s a living history, with families to talk to, and boats that in some cases have run aground, burned, been damaged. But in this story these men and women patch the holes, refloat the boats, and go fishing again.”

As part of the work, The University of Washington History Professor Bruce Hevly led a team of students who catalogued the innovations in technology, economics and vessel design that were happening in the Seattle-based fleet as the FVOA developed. “This project gave my students the unique chance to scour documents and periodicals from the last 100 years to do research about the fleet and then visit the boats themselves in Ballard to see if what they were learning in the library matched what the found on the actual boats they were reading about, said Hevly. “The project also allowed students an uncommon opportunity to see their research immediately turned into a public facing exhibit that they’ll be able to see in a museum before they all graduate.”

CWB thanks the many partners and sponsors who have worked together to fund and create this new exhibit, including: 4Culture, the Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association, Whole Foods Markets, the International Pacific Halibut Commission, Fishermen’s News, published by Philips Publishing Group, the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, The Port of Seattle and The University of Washington Department of History.

The representative boats from the fleet such as the f/v Seymore, f/v Vansee, f/v Kristiana, f/v Polaris and others will be at the Wharf in Lake Union Park for the opening of the exhibit February 15th, 2014…but can only stay for a few weeks. They may be historic boats built during World War 1 but they still have a job to do. Many will be heading out to the North Pacific where the halibut season opens on March 8th.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2014 5:17 pm

    photos of the parade:

    • February 13, 2014 7:40 pm

      Hey thanks for sharing Mike. Great shots. Great boats. I hope you’ll come down to see the exhibit during it’s run.

  2. February 13, 2014 6:36 pm

    We come from four generations of long line fishermen, my husband’s grandfather from Norway, his son, my husband and our son. At one time, all the men in my husband’s family ( his father and his brother, my husband and all his brothers) were fishing all together on the same schooner. A true legacy. Will this be a permanent exhibit or just for a specific period be on display?

    • February 13, 2014 7:39 pm

      Hey Cheri, We sure hope you bring the whole family down to CWB to have a look at the exhibit. This is not a permanent exhibit, but will be up through the fall of this year. Our gallery space at CWB is extremely limited, so we like to do research, and create exhibits that are live for a good run. But then we continue to do more work and need to change the exhibit. That said, we are writing two books about this exhibit, a reconnaissance survey of the fleet that is more of an academic work, and then a smaller book about the fleet, longlining, how it has developed in Seattle, etc. That book is done and on sale at CWB. Beyond that, we’re exploring ways to keep the exhibit information and materials available online.

      We hope to see you on the docks soon.

      • February 13, 2014 8:44 pm

        We live in NH now and my husband commutes to Seattle/Ak when he fishes!
        I was just in Seattle last month but we hope to be back this summer, so we’ll be able to see the exhibit then. Our son is on the Seymour and my husband fished on the Polaris for 25 yrs( until hip surgery last year.),before that he fished on the North, Masonic and Freya. Thank you for recognizing the valuable contribution of the long lining fleet to Seattle’s history and economy.
        My best to you!

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