If you think about the fact that Laura Anderson grew up in a small fishing town on the coast of Washington and spent her younger years working in restaurants, it’s not a surprise that she co-owns and operates Local Ocean Seafoods, a renowned restaurant and market in Newport, Ore. Her father, after all, was a fisherman. It was the way most families made their living in Westport, and Anderson worked her way through college waiting tables.
But if you add another layer to Anderson’s experience, namely a master’s degree in marine resource management from Oregon State University, then her connection to local fisheries and her mission for Local Ocean deepens even further. It becomes more than just providing people with the best seafood experience of their lives, which Anderson regularly does. But it also becomes about educating people on sustainable fisheries, so that they become more aware of ocean issues.
“Hopefully customers walk away not with just a full belly, but I hope they walk away with some appreciation of this working waterfront and the industry in terms of realizing that nourishing seafood and a healthy seafood experience comes from these boats over here,” Anderson says. “Without the collective knowledge of that entire fleet, we wouldn’t have those experiences.”
It’s this mission and consciousness that has earned Anderson and Local Ocean the Orange Spotlight Award for the month of January. The award highlights businesses and organizations either operated by OSU alums and faculty or who employ a large number of Oregon State graduates. These businesses demonstrate a dedication to community service, sustainability and innovation.
Nearly all of the fish on Local Ocean’s menu come from the fishing boats that dock in Yaquina Bay across the street from the restaurant. Anderson buys from about 60 boats yearly. She makes sure she buys from boats that fish sustainably and do all they can to avoid overfishing, habitat impacts and bycatch. Anderson’s co-owner, fisherman Al Pazar, holds himself to the same standards and is a politically active spokesperson for fishermen in the state.
Each season, Anderson takes customers for “dock walks,” during which they can talk to local fishermen and learn about the gear they use, their day-to-day working lives, and the social and political challenges they face. In Local Ocean’s five-year history, Anderson has sent more than 1,000 people down to the docks to learn from fishermen. “Those kinds of direct experiences I think are probably the most valuable in terms of making that connection for our customers,” she says.
That Anderson can talk with expertise about science and is steeped in the concerns and culture of fishermen makes her a valuable voice for them in the political realm. She has been asked to go to Washington, D.C. to testify before Congressional subcommittees and the Department of the Interior. She was instrumental in building the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, a nationally recognized NGO that supports community-based management and helped Port Orford become one of two communities in Oregon to designate a marine reserve area. Last year she served on the Oregon Nearshore Research Task Force the legislature put together to look at how to advance research in the state and region.
“I’d like to see more citizen involvement in management of natural resources,” says Anderson. “I’d like to see more legitimacy given to local knowledge and particularly to fishermen’s knowledge, as these are the individuals who spend hundreds of days a year at sea and really have a strong sense of what’s happening under the water.”
Anderson credits a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in the Philippines working with coastal resource management for giving her a foundation toward helping communities manage their fisheries. When she returned from the Philippines she volunteered at Hatfield Marine Science Center and met Gil Sylvia, who encouraged her to get a graduate degree. Oregon State is where Anderson started to make the connections that made her an active voice for the fishing community.
“The biggest value of the marine resource management program for me was in the relationships and network you build through working with major professors and people you’re introduced to,” Anderson says.