Heather Sears got her start in the fishing industry at 8 years old, trolling for salmon alongside her dad aboard the 48-foot Aguero out of Morro Bay, Calif.
“I was an only child, so I was really into it,” said Sears, who added that she worked that boat into her teenage years, until “I got too obnoxious for dad to want to deal with me.”
The family boat was sold to 2015 NF Highliner Jeremiah O’Brien in 1997, just before Sears moved north to Fort Bragg. She was, admittedly, lucky enough to have one of her first boat purchases align with a series of epic salmon seasons at the turn of the century.
“If I had started at any other time, it might not have worked out,” she said. “This was a point where even someone who didn’t know how to set up a boat or change the oil in their engine could go out and catch a lot of fish.”
After going through a few boats, Sears found her current boat, the 42-foot Princess, in Nanaimo, Canada, in 2008. Princess Seafoods, a usually all-female seafood company (the boat has one man working right now as a fill-in) was born.
“Having all women onboard wasn’t really a conscious decision,” said Sears. “I just got recommendations, friends of friends, and we happened to put together a crew of fantastic women. I’ve never had a dud.”
Anna is taking a break from being a badass to bring some cooked and cleaned jumbo crab to Fort Bragg’s Farmers Market on Wednesday. We also have a fresh batch of smoked salmon and sablefish for you. #knowyourfisherman #crustaceannation
The crew fishes salmon in the summer and freezes them at sea — with permits to fish from U.S. stocks from California to Alaska, they go wherever the stocks are healthiest, often Alaska as of late. On the way back to northern California after the salmon season wraps up, they fish albacore tuna offshore throughout the fall and blackcod out of their home port in the winter and early spring, along with a bit of crabbing.
Sears has been direct marketing all of her catch since 2014, despite a rocky start to the sales process.
“I couldn’t sell anything the first year I tried it,” said Sears. “I had all of this fish that I couldn’t move. I thought I was going to lose everything.”
But the business soon took off, and Princess Seafoods has been selling direct to consumers at farmers markets throughout northern California ever since.
“I’d really encourage everyone, new fishermen and veterans, to make that connection with the public. It’s a new breed of fishermen that have to come out and say, ‘This is what we do and this is why you don’t want us to go away.’ The more the consumer knows, the more likely they are to have our backs,” she said.
“And don’t get discouraged the first year. It’s a slow build, and you have to take time to figure out what works for you,” she added.
In April, Sears announced that she, along with her longtime business partner and original crew member Wendy Holloway, would be reopening Nemo’s Fish Market in Fort Bragg’s North Harbor and rebranding it as Princess Seafood Market & Deli.