By Chelsea Royer
I sit around a cozy fire table at the Westport Winery, chatting with fishermen’s wives.
Molly Bold, Laura Roehrich, Adrienne Jones, and Holly Rydmen are also the founders behind the new group, WEfish, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the fishing community in Westport. Their mission statement is “to preserve the legacy and promote the value of commercial fishing in our families and community through promotion, education, outreach, and service.”
As much of an endeavor such a large undertaking is, the real challenge for these women begins at home. When asked what life is like to be a fisherman’s wife, all four ladies looked at each other and laughed. “Challenging,” was the mutual response. But just as quickly, they clarified that they wouldn’t live their lives any other way. “You never know what’s going to happen. It’s not consistent,” Laura explains.
“It’s a constantly changing set of duties or responsibilities. Similar to deployment, my husband is gone about nine months out of the year,” Holly added. But the inconsistency seems to be what these women thrive on. The lack of routine and constant change is something only a determined personality can handle. Being a part-time single parent is a serious decision the WEfish wives don’t take lightly.
Though raised in Westport, Laura swore when she left home that she’d never marry a fisherman or live in Westport again. But a few months outside of Grays Harbor and Laura knew Westport was home. Some time away made her realize just how much she respected the fishing industry and the men who make it successful. Now she and her kids are a part of her husband’s life as a fisherman and they love it.
For Molly, whose husband is one of five generations of fishing legacy, the heritage is a huge attraction. Like Molly’s husband, many feel a sense of pride in carrying on the family trade. Molly is thrilled that her son has the opportunity to see the dedication and hard work that goes into a fisherman’s skill. This is the side of the industry Molly hopes to reveal through the WEfish organization.
“What people don’t understand is that there are so many families associated with the fishing community. They (fishermen) aren’t all salty old men with beards…they are respectable men with families,” Molly explains referencing old stereotypes and reality television which makes most people have a very distorted view of the fishing community.
Molly’s mission is to raise awareness, support, and respect for her husband’s career and the community surrounding a life spent at sea. “Environmental issues put fishing in a negative light. Fish is one of the cleanest, healthiest meats – the catching of which is highly managed and controlled. In a way, you can take pride that you are ‘feeding the world.’ It does a lot more good than bad and fishing is a huge industry. But for the most part, people only see a boat. They don’t see the hard work or the families behind it.”
“I’m very proud of my husband,” Holly states. “Because of him, my kids have a great work ethic.” And that seems to be the theme – hard work, not just for the fisherman, but for the family he leaves behind. Every woman sitting with me around the fire table had a different story to tell and represented a different aspect of the fishing industry. One type of industry allows the fisherman to return home every night, another keeps him weeks at a time, another (such as Holly’s husband), months.
“It is very much a family business,” Molly explains. The families left behind have to pick up the slack and keep plugging along, not sure when they’ll hear from husband or father next. Communication, however, has developed by leaps and bounds over the last ten years. According to Adrienne, “Even six years ago it was one call a week.” Now, instead of waiting around for a landline call that might never come, family members can have convenient communication through their cell phones and by texting.
The common theme of my chat with the WEfish wives, is the love and commitment they and their families have to one another, to hard work, and to building up a stronger community. WEfish, though only months old in the making, is growing fast, and it is due to the fortitude and dedication of the WEfish wives. A dedication passed down through multiple generations that now grows and spreads across the modern fisherman’s family.