Whatcom County has a brand new festival to celebrate its seafood history. Bellingham SeaFeast will debut Sept 30-Oct 1, 2016 with events in Downtown Bellingham and Zuanich Park. Attendees will have an opportunity to eat, play and explore the Salish Sea bounty through boat rides, demonstrations, poetry, food and educational activities.
Part of SeaFeast is an historical look at some of the fishing families whose work has shaped the county’s maritime industry. One of them is the Zuanich family, which owns Pure Alaska Salmon Company LLC. Its canned salmon is sold in eight states, continuing a Zuanich family heritage that stretches back three generations in Bellingham, and many more generations in Croatia.
Whatcom County has been home to the Zuanich family ever since Dinko Zuanich left the Croatian island of Vis for the Pacific Northwest in 1900. A fisherman whose family had fished the waters of the Adriatic Sea for some 400 years, Dinko was fleeing the political instability of 19th century Europe and the four years of compulsory military service mandated by the Austrian empire, which controlled Vis at that time.
Arriving in Bellingham, he followed the career path he knew best: fishing. He built two wooden boats by hand using the techniques he’d learned on the Adriatic, and sailed one of them, the Andrew Z II, some 2,500 nautical miles to False Pass, Alaska. A true skipper, Dinko navigated the waterways with a compass, a sextant and his long-time knowledge of the stars. He stacked the bow of his boat with caged, live chickens that provided eggs first and dinner later. In stormy seas, when the chickens were drowned by the waves, Dinko and his sailors would be forced to cook the birds all at once.
Dinko established a family in Bellingham, marrying Vis native Maria Mardesich and raising five children in the county. Andy, Tony, Katie, Pete and Dick later followed in their father’s footsteps, pursuing fishing careers themselves. Among his grandchildren Jim Zuanich continued the maritime tradition. Change came in 2004, when Jim took a long, hard look at the price of salmon and knew something had to change. That year pink salmon was fetching just eight cents a pound, a price that hadn’t dropped so low since 1948. “Our beloved industry could not survive at these prices,” Jim recalled.
For years the Zuanich family had canned small quantities of its wild salmon catch and sold it to friends. “We felt this was an untapped opportunity to promote canned wild Alaska salmon,” Jim reflected. “We wanted the American consumer to think differently about canned salmon.”
He co-founded the Pure Alaska Salmon Company LLC and skippered the 56-foot purse seine vessel, Marshal Tito. Now three of Dinko’s great grandchildren, Nick, Andy and Katherine Zuanich, are themselves following a life fishing at sea.
SeaFeast visitors will enjoy stories and poems by local fishermen, experience a salmon BBQ grilling contest, watch fish filleting, crab cracking and oyster shucking demonstrations, sail on the Bellingham Bay, tour a fish processing facility, observe seafood cooking demonstrations and much more. The Grand Finale event is a ticketed dinner featuring a “Symphony of Seafood” and a film about the journey of Salish Sea seafood from ocean to plate. It’s going to be a sea-licious event!
For more info or to buy tickets to the Grand Finale, visit BellinghamSeaFeast.com.