“There’s no bigger innovators than the fishermen,” says Sara Skamser as she tells the story of two fishermen who lost power on their boat in the days before the Coast Guard and ship radios. They made it back to port by fashioning sails out of their bed sheets.
Sara and her husband John have owned Foulweather Trawl in Newport for nearly 30 years, and innovation is what drives their business making custom fishing nets. When new regulations required more sustainable fishing practices, Foulweather Trawl developed nets that exclude bycatch — nontarget and overfished species — and still allow fishermen to catch the fish they want.
Sara says her business is a natural partner with fisheries scientists from Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (ODFW) Oregon State fisheries scientists and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scott Heppell from OSU and Bob Hannah from ODFW are both based at HMSC and have worked with Foulweather Trawl to quantify bycatch and so they can design nets that can exclude these species by size or swimming behavior.
But for all their innovation, one thing hasn’t changed: every net is painstakingly handmade. And she’s proud of the fact that fishermen can depend on their gear.
“Every time those boats go out, a piece of us goes with them,” she says.