By Jeremy Johnson
This article is part of a series highlighting the vibrant people and industries that make up the working waterfronts of the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area. Dive into more stories from Westport with Brady’s Oysters and the Grays Harbor Bar Pilots.
In Westport, Mikayla Evans writes out orders on a dry erase board: 200 pounds, 150 pounds, 30 pounds—portions of fresh tuna to be divvied up by fish cutter Ev Tomlinson once the fully loaded Anna C arrives at Seafood Connection, the seafood market on Float 8. Evans and her staff prepare for the latest haul by filling several 166-gallon insulated fish boxes with ice and cleaning the fish processing station. Once the fresh tuna arrives, it’s processed and portioned immediately.
The Anna C arrives, skippered by Eric Samuelson, and crew members Gabe Franey and Jason Brown get to work preparing for the dockside offload. Being the small operation they are, Seafood Connection has no hoist, and all incoming fish is offloaded by hand a few tuna at a time into the insulated fish boxes. Evans—who co-owns Seafood Connection with her business partner Adrienne Jones—meets the Anna C at the dock, and the whole family lends a hand with offloading, including Evans’ husband Perry Graham and Jones’ kids.
“We’re raising our kids to see the hard work and the fisherman lifestyle,” Jones said with a smile.
Many of the fishing families choose homeschooling to accommodate the schedule of a working summer and a slower fall for family time. For many, their boats are their primary source of income, and family schedules work around the boat. A good fishing season can sustain the family until the next, but a lot of financial planning is needed to prepare in case the season doesn’t deliver.
In 2022, Seafood Connection fulfilled 700 orders and more than 50,000 pounds of seafood. They sell mostly Dungeness crab, tuna, and salmon, but they’ll buy halibut, rock fish, petrale, salmon, tuna, crab, oyster, steamers, prawns, scallops, calamari, shrimp—anything fresh and direct from fishermen they can get their hands on. As a small market and fishmonger, the women nurture relationships directly with the fishermen and buy only what their market can handle.
“We know who takes care of their fish and how it’s handled,” noted Evans. Both their husbands are commercial fishermen and have offered helpful advice from the commercial fishing side of the business.
Seafood Connection was purchased by Jones and Evans in April of 2021. In the 18 months they’ve owned the business, they have focused on making the business sustainable while providing a safe product. They hired a consultant to advise on cooking, smoking, and vacuum packing their own fish. They purchased an ice machine capable of producing two tons of ice per day and new marketing material with signage. Evans “dove headfirst into it,” she said. “I started from nothing and learned as much as I could.”
Working directly with the fishermen, at a small scale and with low overhead, Seafood Connection can offer higher prices to the fishermen and lower prices to the customers for fresh fish. As a bonus, selling directly to customers from the pier means that the fishing crew often sees happy customers buying the fish just offloaded from the boat.
Reflecting on a typical good day at the market, Evans described: “(In) the middle of August, there’s 2,000 pounds of tuna order booked to pick up, a full tank of live crab, lots of smoked fish, lots of cooked crab, stock in the display case, prime of the season. Everything is in August—ling cod, halibut, rock fish, salmon, tuna, and steady customers.”
Still holding onto its commercial fishing roots, Westport has become a destination for tourists looking to buy only the freshest seafood right off the dock.