Updated: Blessing of the Fleet carries on Blaine tradition

By Jan Hrutfiord

The 30th annual Blessing of the Fleet will be held at the Blaine Harbor office  meeting room on Sunday, May 3 at 1:30 p.m.

The blessing ceremony has taken place every year since 1985. The Seafarers Memorial group started honoring the local fishermen who died at sea, as well as blessing the boats that go out to harvest from Washington, Alaska and Oregon. The event is sponsored by the Blaine Chamber of Commerce, and is an important ceremony for this local group.

Fishermen have been working out of Blaine since the 1800s. The earliest fishing was done with fish traps, which stretched from the beach to a half-mile or more into the water. Salmon would enter the mouth of the trap and be guided by nets to a final trap they couldn’t get out of.

These traps were used along the shoreline of Semiahmoo spit, Birch Point, Point Roberts and other sites, which were set up to guide fish heading to local rivers and streams into the trap. A boat called a “tender” would empty the ends of the traps into their fish holds and take them to the salmon canneries. Fishermen used this system until it was made illegal in 1934.

The largest salmon cannery in the world was built at the end of Semiahmoo spit in the late 1800s. This was the Alaska Packers Cannery, where Semiahmoo Resort is located today.

Different styles of net fishing are the main methods for salmon caught today. Many Blaine residents have been involved in fishing for salmon, bottom-dwelling and mid-water fish and crab.

For several years a scholarship has been offered to graduating Blaine students with family ties to the local fishing industry. A $500 scholarship is offered, and we hope funds will continue to be sent to the Blaine Chamber of Commerce Seafarer’s Memorial Fund to keep this scholarship going.

The Blessing of the Fleet ceremony is open to the public. Local and state officials will be in attendance, the Plover ferry will take the memorial wreath out to sea. Captain Richard Sturgill will take passengers who have lost friends or loved ones at sea out to lay the wreath on the water. Refreshments will be available, courtesy of local fishing families.

This article corrected Richard Sturgill’s participation in the memorial service. The Plover ferry will not be open for recreational rides, only for those participating in the wreath-laying ceremony.

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