BODEGA BAY — When Rod Moore started volunteering at the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival 18 years ago, the event was, true to its name, focused heavily on the start of the commercial salmon fishing season.
And the homegrown industry remained a major focus of the festival’s 45th iteration Sunday, especially as fishermen’s boats adorned with festive flags cruised through Bodega Harbor for the annual blessing of the fleet.
The difference was that salmon population projections are below minimum levels for the third year in a row, prompting state officials to delay the beginning of the commercial fishing season into July. It used to start in May.
Over time, the festival has become a broader affair that brings the whole coastal community together, Moore, 78, recalled while doing his longtime volunteer job overseeing the cooking at the fish-and-chips booth.
“I’ve seen it change immensely from a very fish-focused event to something more community (oriented),” said Moore, a sport fisherman. “But it has improved in a good way. It’s festive. It’s attractive to people.”
In addition to being a celebration of commercial fishing, the two-day festival draws several thousand people each year to Westside Park to enjoy seafood, wine and beer, live music and even a wooden boat challenge that expanded this year from one day to two.
Josh Perucchi, the chairperson of the festival this year, said he was hoping to raise $100,000 from festivalgoers to support numerous local nonprofits compared to the roughly $66,000 raised last year.
The festival was on track to reach up to 7,000 total attendees, according to Perucchi. Last year about 3,000 to 4,000 people came, he said.
During the fleet blessing, clergy asked God to protect local fisherman as well as public safety officers and those who come to the waters of the Sonoma Coast for recreational purposes.
“God loves fishermen,” said Pastor Patrick Parks of Bodega Bay Church. “You need to know that and you need to experience that.”
Crab fisherman Diego Quiroz, 54, was grateful to partake in Sunday’s fleet blessing. Commercial crab fishing, another staple of the North Coast economy, has also struggled in recent years due to unsafe levels of a naturally occurring neurotoxin found in the crustaceans.
“I believe in God, so it feels good to go out there and be blessed and be part of the tradition,” said Quiroz, of Sebastopol, alongside the fishing boat Annabelle after it returned from the blessing to Spud Point Marina.
At Westside Park, teams were busy building and getting ready for the newly-expanded wooden boat challenge. Cynthia Owings of Sonoma was helping her 13-year-old son and a classmate from Woodland Star Charter School build the boat they’d use to race others to a buoy in the harbor and back.
The teams were given two sheets of plywood, two longboards of 2-by-2s, 12 1-by-2s and some caulk, Owings said. A drill was the only power tool they were allowed to use.
Owings started helping her son, Emerson Fay, and his teammate build their boat at 10 a.m. in preparation for their second year competing in the youth division of the wooden boat challenge. They had to be finished by 2 p.m.