Next weekend's 37th annual Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival couldn't arrive at a more dire time for the iconic salty dogs of the sea it aims to celebrate.
With the local salmon industry on hold and bottom trawling a bust, the only option right now is crabbing — and it hasn't exactly been a banner year for Dungeness.
Sonoma County is littered with festivals that pay homage to fading traditions and industries. The Apple Blossom Festival in Sebastopol perseveres even though the apple cart left town years ago. Butter and Egg Days still draws big crowds even though Petaluma is hardly the Egg Basket of the world it once was. Ditto the Cloverdale Citrus Fair.
But does anyone remember the perennial spring favorite Prune Blossom Festival? One day it could happen: a Fisherman's Festival with no fishermen.
"You know who the endangered species is?" says Bodega Bay fisherman Tony Anello. "You've gotta think about it: It's us."
Before the festival kicks off with the annual boat parade and blessing of the fleet, we check in with three generations of the Bodega Bay fishing industry:
Age: 81, retired
Boats: Robert Croll and Sea Farmer
When did you start fishing? "I was just a kid, with my dad back in 1941."
At what point did you imagine this would be your career? "I just started out doing it because that's all there was to do in Bodega Bay. I grew up with it. My dad started in 1922 and I just kind of fell into it."
The heyday: "It was probably in the '60s. On a really good day, you could catch around 100 salmon. ... We could get maybe 7,000-8,000 pounds of crab on a good day. The boats were better. When World War II was over, we got the LORANs (Long Range Navigation systems) from the government. That was a big help because now you could tell where you were on the water."
Compare that to today: "Now we're not fishing. All they're fishing is crabs. After the first couple of weeks of the season, the crabbing falls way off. You got more competition; bigger boats come in, with more crab pots. It used to be if a person had 100 pots, that was a lot. Now they've got 500."
How important is the Fisherman's Festival and the blessing of the fleet as a way of paying respect to what you do? "I think it sells a lot of food. People come and watch the boats go out. The guys like it. It gives people a chance to see what you've got."
Can you imagine a day when there's a Fisherman's Festival but no fishermen? "No, I can't. I think you'll always find some fishermen. Not all of them will participate in it, but some will."
Do you think your grandchildren will be able to do this for a living? "My grandson Joe Mantua is 36 and so far he's doing OK."
Family boats: The Annabelle and the Cape Ommaney
Owner: Spud Point Crab Company
Years fishing: 41
What was the dream when you started? "In 1970, we bought a boat (The Miracle), and I just decided it would be a good life. It's been in our family forever. My grandfather came over from Sicily and fished in Monterey and Fisherman's Wharf. And my dad fished before the war and a little after the war."