Central Coast Women for Fisheries, or CCWF, is a non-profit organization in Morro Bay founded in 2006 by women within the commercial fishing industry, including female fishermen, boat captains, and the wives of fishermen.
Most fisheries in the area are small or family-run. According to CCWF’s president Lenore Ward, the organization is run with the local fisherman in mind.
“Most local fisheries are not big companies,” said Ward. “They’re just little family businesses here.”
Sharon Rowley, the vice president of CCWF, is a licensed boat captain – the second generation of three women with the same certification.
“My mother started running a boat in 1979, well, she worked on boats several years before that,” said Rowley. “And then my daughter is a third generation, she eventually got [a captain’s license], many, many years later.”
Morro Bay is part of a channel of fishing communities all along the California Coast, each with a quaint charm that attracts tourists.
City Measure D protects a half-mile stretch by the seaside that is dedicated to commercial fishing.
“What was happening was they were putting gift shops and hotels everywhere,” said CCWF treasurer Sheri Hafer, who moved to the Central Coast with her husband Tom, a fisherman, in 1992. “We needed an area where we could afford to live in and have our boats.”
As a nonprofit, CCWF doesn’t deal with fishing policy, but works with organizations who do, such as the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, where Tom Hafer serves as president.
While the number of commercial fishermen has fallen over the years due to policy changes, CCWF supports those who have fallen on hard times with the Fisherman’s Relief Fund, which comes from donations from community members.
“When we hear that a fisherman is going through some kind of horrible situation, like we just found out this young fisherman is going blind. And he’s got a wife and two kids,” said Hafer. “And so you know, we sent him some of our relief fund money.”
CCWF’s scholarship program offers up to four years of tuition assistance for descendants of fishermen attending college or trade school.
Lorrin French comes from a third-generation fishing family, and is getting his master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at Cal Poly.
After graduating from Portland State in 2012, French worked on his family’s boat for several years, but then went back to school with the support of CCWF.
“I knew about CCWF like, it’s like, ‘Hey, I wonder if these guys are still around?’ And turns out they are,” said French. “Honestly, coming from my position, you know, like I said, I lost a significant amount of my income over those few years. So I was financially kind of reeling.”
Lorrin’s grandfather Al French passed away after his boat capsized in 1987, a day before Lorrin was born.
“That is one thing about fishing, like, being on the ocean is very humbling in a sense because like, it’s much bigger than you,” he said.
The weather navigation system on Morro Bay’s North T Pier is dedicated to Al French.
Appreciation is also the cornerstone of CCWF’s largest project, a statue next to Morro Rock entitled “Those Who Wait.”
“It’s a mother and her two kids waving goodbye,” said Hafer. “Especially with albacore fishermen, they leave Fourth of July and don’t come back until Thanksgiving.”
After raising funds over several years, the statue was unveiled in 2016, where visitors and fishing families alike can pay respect to those out at sea or lost to sea.
CCWF’S outreach projects have ranged from hands-on learning events at schools to teach students about fishing to Youtube tutorials on how to filet an albacore.
But what Ward wants people to take away from their efforts is that fishing is so much more than just a career.
“It’s a different lifestyle than other businesses. It’s not a nine to five job, and it’s not, you know, the same kind of, of stressors or whatever that other industries have,” said Ward. “They’ve got to be a little bit salesmen, they’ve got to be a little bit mechanic, you know, know how to do the navigation and the weather.”
“Kind of like a renaissance man?” I asked, to which Hafer interjected, “I don’t know if I’d call them renaissance men.”
“Don’t tell them that!” laughed Ward.
More information about CCWF can be found on their website at womenforfisheries.org.