By: Nir Barnea, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program
On December 21st, the F/V Western was pulled out of the water near the Empire Dock in Coos Bay, Oregon. The sunken vessel was brought to land and later disposed of, thus ending a long journey that started 82 years earlier. Unlike some abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs), we know a lot about the F/V Western’s history thanks to Toni Mirosevich, a Professor at San Francisco State University and the daughter of Anthony Mirosevich, the captain and owner of the F/V Western for twenty years.
In 1934, when the world was gripped by the Great Depression, a graceful, wood hulled, 69-foot long boat was launched in Tacoma, Washington. The vessel was purchased by the Mirosevich family from Everett, WA in 1945, named Western Maid, and set sail for salmon fishing in Alaska. In 1965, after Anthony Mirosevich passed away, his family sold the boat. At some point, it was converted to a crab fishing vessel and its name was changed to Western.
Over the years the boat’s condition deteriorated. It sank twice– once in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and the second time near Coos Bay, OR. In both instances, it was raised and given a new life. In 2015, the boat sank for the third and last time, adjacent to the Empire Dock in Coos Bay. It was located near a shipping lane and in an environmentally-sensitive area, so the F/V Western had to be removed to prevent additional environmental harm. The Oregon State Marine Board led the removal project, in collaboration with the Oregon Department of State Land and the NOAA Marine Debris Program. Billeter Marine, a local marine salvage contractor, conducted the removal.
The story of the F/V Western is unique, but not unusual. Boats, long past their prime, eventually sink, and their removal is challenging and costly. As part of the project, and to facilitate prevention of ADVs in Oregon, the Oregon State Marine Board in collaboration with Oregon Sea Grant initiated the ADV Task Force. The Task Force brings together many partners including port and marina managers, vessel owners, and fishermen to identify strategies to prevent commercial fishing vessels from becoming large and expensive pieces of marine debris. The ADV Task Force will draft a report that includes the group’s process, challenges, options for prevention, and recommendations. In addition, this project is creating an inventory of commercial fishing vessels along the Oregon coast that need to be removed. Using a matrix developed by the Columbia River Derelict Vessel Task Force, the inventory will include vessel location, ownership information, history, and condition to facilitate ADV removal in Oregon.
Hopefully the enduring legacy of the F/V Western will be the long-lasting benefits that the ADV Task Force will provide to Oregon and possibly to other states who face the persistent challenge of abandoned and derelict vessels.
For more information on this removal project, check out the project profile on the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s website.