There’s a little-known fact about Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg: He was once a competitive fighter with a blackbelt in Chinese Kempo, a student of the Choy Li Fut-style of gung fu and ran a martial arts studio where he trained hundreds of students in the 1970s.
Now at 66 years old, he’s a commercial fisherman and a fishermen’s advocate in California who promotes the interests of his industry in many multi-stakeholder organizations. His kind face, friendly words, and genial demeanor make him a bridge builder between fishermen, biologists, fishery managers, and the press. But, those features often conceal his fighting spirit, one he’s proven while working tirelessly on solutions to whale entanglement in Dungeness crab gear on the California coast — an issue that has threatened to shut down the fishery.
Ogg’s philosophy — rooted in the gung fu tradition — isn’t about defeating an opponent but rather seeking opportunities to find peace from a position of strength, meeting people where they are rather than where he’d like them to be and looking toward the natural environment for inspiration. This outlook has helped him on the water and in meetings with people whose interests are often contrary to his.
“I’ve always been driven internally. It was martial arts that helped guide me to focus on where I wanted to go while also supporting the group,” Ogg says. “Right now, I want everyone to know that fishermen want to do right. They want to provide a sustainable product to people. They are the true conservationists.”
Ogg fishes for salmon, blackcod and Dungeness crab on the Karen Jeanne, a 54- foot fiberglass boat he purchased in 2013. In years where schools of albacore came close to the northern California coast, he fished for those, too.
In an ideal world, all of Ogg’s focus would be on the water, chasing schools of king salmon, turning crab gear until his hold was full and bringing blackcod to shore for customers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead, to keep himself and the Bodega Bay fleet on the water, Ogg must navigate bureaucracy, juggle meetings in boardrooms, and prepare for conference calls.
Ogg is the vice president of the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association, a member of the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group charged with mitigating whale entanglement through gear modification, the vice chair of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, and a member of both the California Salmon Council and the TriState Dungeness Crab Committee. (For brevity’s sake this is not a comprehensive list.)
“The reason I do things like the (Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council) is that I want to be able to voice our position on different aspects of the (marine protected area),” Ogg says of the marine sanctuary located right off Bodega Bay. “Now at least I’m part of it, and I understand the potential issues that could arise. They can also hear what we want to happen and what we don’t want to happen.”
A two-day period in late September perfectly encapsulates Ogg’s schedule. He got to his boat earlier in the morning on a Wednesday to prep his blackcod gear. He then took part in two conference calls from his wheelhouse, one with the Dungeness crab gear group, and then went back to the deck to bait his traps until he went off to another meeting in the evening. After an hourlong nap he untied at 11 p.m. and fished for blackcod straight through until 9:30 p.m. the following day.
“If you want to do this, you have to have the drive to do it,” Ogg says with a chuckle. While Ogg is now a prominent voice in the California fishing community, he didn’t start commercial fishing until his late 40s. Between his life as a competitive martial artist and a commercial fisherman, Ogg was the lead electrician at Sonoma State University, 20 miles inland from Bodega Bay, where he worked for 31 years. In his last decade at the university he would take vacation time and use weekends to commercially fish salmon and albacore before retiring in 2007.
Remarkably, there’s still a lot more to Dick Ogg than three careers in his adult life. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1953, just eight years after an atomic bomb destroyed his ancestral city. He was adopted by a military family and lived abroad before he first came to the United States in the late 1950s. Ogg’s family moved to south San Francisco before settling in Sonoma County. All that’s left his ties to Japan is a birth certificate written in Japanese characters on rice paper.
He caught the fishing bug from his grandfather, who was a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and a renowned craftsman of handmade bass plugs, Ogg says. As a child, he spent lot of time with his grandfather bass fishing in the lakes of Oklahoma. But as a California kid, he took his passion for the water to saltwater. After half a lifetime, he then made his passion a profession and has made the California fleet better for it.
“It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Ogg says, reflecting on his life. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”