Fishpeople of Ilwaco

151 Howerton Ave., Ilwaco

ILWACO — A new sustainable seafood market is set to open soon in Ilwaco.

Fishpeople of Ilwaco is anticipating opening at 151 Howerton Ave. along the Port of Ilwaco offering fresh, seasonal seafood from local fishermen in the coming weeks.

“Our intention is to serve the general public with products that are coming off the boat,” said partner Mike Shirley, who co-owns Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, a commercial seafood offloading facility that will primarily supply the market less than a mile away.

New source for sustainable seafood

The new market comes amid a deepening consumer demand for fresh, sustainable seafood. In recent months, seafood supply and distribution lines have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which hastened the closure of some longstanding seafood businesses that were already on the brink, including Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Market, Ole Bob’s Café and Market, and the Warrenton Deep Sea market.

On the north side of the Columbia estuary, closure of two prominent seafood businesses left a void at the Port of Ilwaco docks.

“The need of this service in this town is significant,” Shirley, who joined the Ilwaco Port Commission in October 2019.

“And so is working in conjunction with the other businesses. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” he said.

The market will feature the different catch depending on the season, including Dungeness crab, salmon, black cod, rockfish, tuna and halibut. Willapa Bay-sourced shellfish, including clams and oysters.

The front room will operate as a retail market with traditional deli-style display of the days’ catch.

“You can buy things that were offloaded hours ago,” Shirley said.

Fishpeople Seafood products will also be available.

“You can buy 200 pounds of tuna to can at home, or you can come in and buy 200 cans of tuna,” Shirley said.

A backroom space will contain live-crab holding tanks and freezers. On Wednesday, June 24, Shirley placed a new sign in the store window, but is still awaiting the arrival of equipment, including freezers, refrigerators and a deli display case, all delayed because of supply line issues from the on-going covid-19 pandemic.

“If I had equipment today, we would be open next week. We’re still waiting on equipment. We think it’s about 30 days out,” he said

A growing sustainable seafood network

The new market in Ilwaco is the latest branch in an expanding sustainable seafood network.

Front Door Fish is part of the Ilwaco Landing Fishermen, a fleet-integrated seafood wholesaler, that started with sport fishermen Shirley and Scott Kastengren. Today, the wholesaler has grown to include more than 100 boats during certain seasons.

In 2016, they acquired the Tillamook Bay Boathouse in Garibaldi to serve more fishermen and provide additional processing and offloading facilities for the growing fleet. In 2017, they established the Garibaldi-based Front Door Fish, a global direct-to-consumer seafood distribution platform.

The new market in Ilwaco was partially inspired by success with a similar business model in Garibaldi.

“We have the same setup in Garibaldi, where we have a retail market on the water at our facility,” Shirley said.

“Our retail location at (Ilwaco Landing) would be difficult at best. This is the ideal location. I wasn’t necessarily looking to starting something here but with Jessie’s retail going and Ole Bob’s going, we felt there was a strong need for the community.”

The market will work in conjunction with other processors to provide sustainable seafood from outside the area.

“We have access to a lot of different products whether we land it or not,” Shirley said.

“The biggest thing is sustainable practices, that we didn’t kill whales or dolphins or leave a massive carbon footprint, and making sure the people who caught that fish are taken care of. We want to be good stewards of the ocean. We consider this the front door of the Pacific.”

Shirley is also planning the eventual opening of a retail fish market in Hood River, the third location including Garibaldi and Ilwaco.

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