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Bellingham selects seafood festival as its newest signature event

Kyle Watkins, 19, helps to lay a salmon fishing net down in the proper manner on the deck of the boat Miss Roxanne Oct. 30, 2010 in Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham. Organizers say a new Bellingham Waterfront and Seafood Festival will celebrate the local commercial fishing industry.
Kyle Watkins, 19, helps to lay a salmon fishing net down in the proper manner on the deck of the boat Miss Roxanne Oct. 30, 2010 in Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham. Organizers say a new Bellingham Waterfront and Seafood Festival will celebrate the local commercial fishing industry. For The Bellingham Herald

A committee has chosen what it hopes will be the city’s new signature event, and it’s about celebrating a longtime industry that continues to play a big role in the local economy.

Organizers for the Bellingham Waterfront and Seafood Festival proposal were awarded $75,000 to start putting together the event, which will take place in the fall of 2016, according to a news release from the city. The money comes from the lodging tax from hotel and motel visitors. Of the 18 proposals reviewed by the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, the seafood festival was the only event to receive funding.

The festival will focus on showcasing Bellingham’s maritime and commercial fishing sector through plenty of different events, including fish filleting and oyster shucking contests, boat cruises, survivor suit races, children’s activities and cooking demonstrations.

One culminating event that is being considered is called “Salmonchanted Evening,” which would be a formal dance or ball.

While the event is still in the early planning stages, organizers are thinking about having it over an entire weekend in late September or early October 2016, said Debbie Granger, festival planning coordinator. Late September/early October is usually a time when the commercial fishing fleet is in Bellingham, and is also a time when Western Washington University students are returning to school.

A spot to hold the festival has yet to be selected, but Granger said the waterfront will be the focal point. With the potential of many events, the festival could be held at different parts of the waterfront.

Granger, who has an extensive background in the commercial fishing industry, said it was heartwarming to get so much initial support from those who work in commercial fishing when the festival idea started taking shape.

“We may compete with each other out on the water, but when it comes to showcasing this industry to the community, we have each others’ back,” Granger said.

It turned out that support was a factor in the festival being selected.

“One of the reasons this proposal rose to the top was due to the overwhelming support of the people who make up this industry. Another was this event connects us to the bay. Our life on the water is a big part of our history and our day-to-day life,” said City Council member Pinky Vargas in the news release. She also chaired the advisory committee.

Granger said while the event is geared toward local residents, she expects it also will draw people from outside the area.

The local commercial fishing industry has long played a big part of the economy. According to a recent study done for the Port of Bellingham, the Squalicum and Blaine marinas had 1,781 direct jobs in 2013, creating an additional 870 jobs in Whatcom County. The wages generated from those 1,781 jobs totaled $94.5 million.

For those interested in being a part of organizing the event, email Granger at debgranger@comcast.net.

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