About 10,000 people streamed into Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 23, for the 29th Fishermen’s Fall Festival. The annual tradition is a celebration of the bounty of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska commercial fishing fleets right in their backyard — Fishermen’s Terminal. The gathering marks the fleet’s return to Seattle following a productive and busy summer fishing season.

Seattle Fishermen's Fall Festival

Clockwise from top left: Island Nets demo, Bering Sea crabber Brenna A at the docks, Alaska Weathervane scallop taco, smooth sailing all day.

Of course some salmon boats and tenders are still out for fall fishing, and what remained of the Bering Sea crab fleet was wrapping projects to head north to Dutch for the anticipated Oct. 1 start. Capt. Sean Dwyer’s Brenna A was tied up in plain view, sporting a fresh coat of paint and various welding projects on deck.

This year was my first visit to the festival. Having been gifted an absolutely perfect day to be dockside, my summation is that it is one of the happiest and best run festivals I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend.

A team from Trident Seafoods makes its way to the life raft in the Survival Suit contest.

The Port of Seattle goes all out to make this a family-centered day on the water with a 40-foot-long build-your-own wooden boat table, balloon animals, bouncy house, all-day live music lineup, net-makers demo booth, tours of the 106-year-old wooden halibut schooner Tordenskjold, ship canal tours, and possibly the best part of all — a long lineup of fantastic food.

Crews repping the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, Freezer Longline Coalition and Alaska Weathervane Scallops volunteered time and catch to serve P-cod tacos, grilled crab sliders and scallop tacos. Pacific Fishermen Shipyard put on one of its famous salmon bakes, and always feeds the volunteers, to boot. These groups alone bring in north of $10,000 for the Fishermen’s Memorial Foundation, which provides scholarships to the children and spouses of fishermen lost at sea. The entire festival is run by an army of volunteers from the port, maritime organizations and companies, as well as fishermen from all over the West Coast and Alaska.

The fishermen's version of a touch tank was a big attraction for the thousands of families attending the festival.

The festival has contests for everyone, too — oyster slurping, lutefisk eating and salmon filleting, as well as the annual favorite survival suit races (in which teams of participants suit up, swim between two docks and board a life raft in timed heats). Each race offers a range of prizes.

I inflated and handed out about 1,000 balloons to hundreds of smiling little faces. If you need to brighten your day, give balloons to kids. You’ve never seen more grateful and happy families. I admit my time in the booth left me wondering about where all of those plastic sources of joy could possibly end up. A quick Google tells me there are marine-friendly biodegradable balloons. We’ll be looking to upgrade next year.

But it’s not just fun and games at the festival. Where there are fishermen, there is dock talk — industry folks were eager to chat about Magnuson, America’s Finest, Pebble Mine, the upcoming Pacific Marine Expo, council meetings, the bottleneck of young maritime workers, the salmon net pen spill, how managers get things wrong (or even occasionally right!), and of course, how their summer fishing season went down.

Thank you, Seattle, for being a gracious and gorgeous host, as always.

Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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