Ferndale fisherman remains passionate about his commercial trade

Brian Haling is more than just a survivor in the ruggedly competitive world of commercial fishing.

The 37-year-old Ferndale resident, a commercial fisherman since he was 14, is one of several fishers who sell their catch directly to the public off their boats at Squalicum Harbor, mostly on weekends.

Haling not only stubbornly clings to an occupation he loves, but especially enjoys teaching fishing skills to his children, 11-year-old Sara and 5-year-old Kaden.

Haling grew up in Bellingham and is a 1988 graduate of Bellingham High School.

Question: You sure seem determined to keep on fishing for a living. How does it compare now to when you started?

Answer: When I started in 1984, the whole harbor was full of commercial boats, but there’s only a handful now. Just in my time, I’d say the non-tribal commercial fleet has decreased by about 75 percent.

Q: That hasn’t stopped some of you folks from selling directly to the public, has it?

A: I’m not just speaking for my business, but for all of us. We’re good friends and we’d all like the public to know more about the little “fisherman’s wharf” we’ve set up during the summer at Squalicum Harbor. We’ll send people to each other’s boats if someone asks for something we don’t have. The fishing lifestyle is an addiction, and I’m addicted to fishing.

Q: How many of you are selling at the harbor during the summer?

A: Four, five, six at one time. I’ve never seen more than three of us selling salmon at the same time. We started about four years ago selling fresh fish right off the boats. I recall I was one of the first three fishermen to do so.

Q: You’re making me hungry! What’s especially appealing about that to you?

A: People love fresh fish. I can make a little more than I can selling directly to a cannery, and I love the interaction with the public. We usually only have a couple of customers at a time, so we can take the time to talk fishing — my favorite topic! And it’s a great educational lesson in business for Sara when she’s out helping me.

Q: When will you start selling?

A: When we can. You really have to be ready, because we have two or three days’ notice for salmon, and the time frame varies from year to year in our area.

Q: How many boats do you own?

A: Three — a 28-foot gillnetter, a 26-foot crab boat and a 20-foot skiff combo for crabbing and gillnetting. I was 19 when I owned my first boat. I call my business “Haling Seafood — Salmon, Prawn, Halibut, Crab.”

Q: Do you also work on other boats?

A: I do, crabbing out of Westport and fishing for halibut and black cod (sablefish) off Alaska the first half of the year. Last year, I came back to Puget Sound and caught salmon and crabbed in my own boat. I’m a single dad with custody of Sara, so I get a lot of wonderful help from my mom, Marge Haling.

Q: How did you get started?

A: I can’t remember when I wasn’t fishing. I loved fishing as a tiny kid. My dad, Ron Haling, taught me sportfishing as a kid. I remember how we’d go out to Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Creek when I was a real little guy. When I was in high school, I could make as much money fishing in the summer as most kids could in six months or a year. When I was 15, I once made $1,500 in one night as a deckhand! I joke that’s the night that got me hooked for life.

Q: Sounds like you’re in it for the long haul.

A: I could make a lot more money doing something else, but I love the fishing lifestyle. When I first started, you could fish three to six months and make enough to live comfortably for the whole year. Those days are gone. Now you’re fishing hard for at least nine months. But I’m doing what I love.