CORVALLIS - A unique program to help Oregon fishing families make a transition out of fishing into other occupations has received a national award.
Ginny Goblirsch, an Oregon State University Sea Grant Extension agent based in Newport, and Flaxen Conway, a Corvallis-based Sea Grant community outreach specialist, received the award for superior outreach programming, among 30 state programs in the national Sea Grant network.
The Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program, which Goblirsch and Conway began, helped members of the Oregon fishing community access support, resources and training. The federally funded program brought approximately $4 million to Oregon and served more than 800 displaced groundfishery workers.
The program was already underway in 2000 when a federal fishery disaster was declared for groundfish in Oregon, Washington, and California, in the wake of drastic harvest reductions. One key feature, according to participants, was how the outreach program successfully brought together affected members of the fishing industry and government service providers.
"This community-driven disaster relief program is very innovative," said Joyce Aho, manager of the Oregon Employment Department in Astoria. "It pulled together services from the Oregon Employment Department, multiple Workforce Investment Act and other support providers, and provided those services to the fishing community via fishing industry outreach peers."
The industry peers were the "essential" innovation to the program's success, said Connie Kennedy, president of Newport Fishermen's Wives. The peers were five fishermen's wives from different regions of the coast who were contracted to work part time as information providers and mentors to others in the industry who were in transition. They were meanwhile also going through the same transitions themselves and accessing the same services.
"These outreach peers were the eyes and ears of the fishing industry 'at sea level' where the real needs were being experienced," said Kennedy.
Communication is rarely smooth between independent-minded fishermen and government, but "Flaxen Conway and Ginny Goblirsch were instrumental in building a program based on mutual learning between the service providers and the fishing community culture to better serve affected areas," Kennedy said.
Success stories from the program in the Newport alone are numerous: 388 people were served by the outreach peer on the central coast.
"People who thought they were limited by their lifetime in fishing learned that many of the skills they used on the ocean or beachside were transferable to other vocations," Kennedy said.
One Newport fisherman went from running a vessel to running a water treatment facility; another skipper now works with deaf children; another frames houses, she said. More than 280 individuals from the central coast region are now working outside the fishing industry as a result of the program.
From a university and Sea Grant perspective, a key feature of the effort was that it was inclusive, according to Jay Rasmussen, Oregon Sea Grant Extension program leader. The Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program was guided by an advisory committee made up of members of both the fishing community and the resource agency community, he noted. And each port on the Oregon coast, big and small, had equal outreach, so that none was left out.
"This was truly an innovative, community-driven, collaborative outreach program, and I'm absolutely delighted that Ginny and Flaxen's creative and enormously successful efforts have been nationally recognized by their colleagues," said Rasmussen.
The fact that Sea Grant helped make a difference on the ground is what local leaders appreciate.
"This program has been the crucial instrument for helping groundfish fishermen transition out of the fishing industry into new, livable wage careers," said Joy McCarthy, marketing director of South Coast Business Employment Corp. of Coos and Curry Counties. "The needs of the participants in the program were met."