Before becoming the Harbormaster of the Noyo Harbor District, Anna Neumann worked as a crew member for a commercial fishing vessel, gathered tidal data for a non-profit, and even spent time as a driving instructor in Mexico. She earned a master’s degree in Fishing Policy from Oregon State University while working as a skilled fillet worker at Princess Seafoods.
Neumann’s long-time connection to the ocean is obvious, and her background knowledge and experience in differing aspects of the fishing industry are a bonus. Her life in Fort Bragg is established, and her sincere desire to be a positive agent of change on behalf of local fishermen and state policymakers is borne from her observations during her own time in the industry. In order to move into this arena, she needed that master’s degree. She explained, “I saw a huge disconnect between what policymakers were saying about what was happening with the fisheries and what was actually happening at the fisheries.” She added, “We don’t often see policymakers walk the docks.” She said there are no bad guys. It appears that Sacramento policymakers have the best of intentions, but very few of them have any working understanding of commercial fishing. “At meetings,” she said, “both sides seemed to talk past each other,” as if they spoke different languages.
Since she came on board in September of 2021 and finds herself as an administrator who manages the marina, supports the local commercial fishermen, and works to restore the infrastructure of her harbor district. It’s about honoring Noyo Harbor’s history, strengthening the economic and environmental health of the fishing industry, and tying together the people who work in that industry to the community that benefits from the hard work of dedicated, local fishing families. All of Neumann’s experiences play into her challenges as a harbormaster. She knows the fisherman, has worked directly with the public, understands government policy, and has connections to non-profit groups that can be of help to her goals.
How well the harbor district flourishes will depend on the friendly and supervisory goodwill that Neumann extends to all who enter the fishing village and her commitment to finding funding from grant sources. Moreover, she must attend to needs large and small, from rusted-out cleats to keeping hoists available, from assigning marina slips to overseeing fish sales at the docks, from dealing with abandoned boats to making Grader Park available for the annual Salmon BBQ. She can’t neglect warped boarding either. Fifty years of wear and decay of the infrastructure is noticeable to anyone.
Neumann’s challenges are many, and all of them are inherited. The Noyo Harbor District is its own jurisdiction and must determine its own funding. There is a board of five commissioners, two appointed by Fort Bragg’s City Council, two appointed by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, and a jointly appointed chairperson. The harbor district’s budget is mostly dependent upon marina slip rentals and taxes from businesses with docks on submerged tidelands. A little funding comes from property taxes via the county. Neumann noted that she relies on launch fees during a strong recreational fishing season when “every day the parking lot will be filled.” A small parking fee is charged as well.
Neumann has a very small staff of four people to assist her— an administrative assistant, a full-time maintenance crew of two, and one part-time maintenance worker for the weekends, and has divided her daily routines into two cycles determined by the weather. Good weather days require constant marina management as boats come and go. Windy days are dedicated to grant writing, office work, and overseeing maintenance projects. A few times a week, you can find her on-site by 5:00 a.m. helping unload drag boats until 8:00 a.m. She maintains office hours from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. She is a whirlwind constantly spinning through the North and South harbors.
Neumann does have a priority list based on the 2019 Marina Re-Development Plan and the 2019 Community Sustainability Plan. The recommendations in both documents are hefty, and the expense of meeting all the goals is well over ten million dollars. Also, each plan has its own focus and purpose. In general, both plans specify specific additions, upgrades, and refurbishments within the entire area owned by the district. The Marina Re-Development recommends a three-year plan to revitalize physical aspects such as the replacement of docks, another dredging of the harbor basin, repairs to the harbor’s wave wall, construction of a fuel dock, facilities for hazmat disposal, and new laundry and bathroom facilities.
At this time, Neumann is concentrating on acquiring grant funding for the removal of abandoned boats, the construction of a new fish cleaning station, upgrades to Grader Park to make it more amenable to group rentals, and replacement of old cleats and pile hooks for tsunami preparedness. The Coastal Commission will need to approve plans for a fuel dock once environmental studies are completed. Neumann also has mooring base reconstruction in her sight which would include electrical safety upgrades.
The Sustainability Plan focuses on the long history of commercial fishing which needs support to remain a viable economic center. It notes all the items listed in the Marina Plan, but its viewpoint is that of the local fishermen, most of whom operate their small vessels as the family business. Economic, environmental, and regulatory changes have deeply affected the industry in the past ten years or so. For example, the canceled salmon season of 2008-2009 left local fishermen and their families without income for five months, waiting for federal disaster relief.
Neumann takes comfort in local fishery management to prevent overfishing of multiple stocks of other good-eating fish. She is pleased that the Noyo Science Center has taken over the use of the Carine building and will open the Slack Tide Cafe. She said, “They do a great job of communicating the needs of the ocean community. I’m excited to see them expand and what they can bring into the marina.” She also points to the non-profit, sponsored urchin removal project employing local divers. Purple urchins are the primary predators of the kelp beds. The urchin population has exploded, and they have been chomping their way toward eliminating kelp altogether.
Neumann said, “Kelp is a basic part of the ecosystem. There’s a nursery ground and habitat for juveniles. If we don’t get some kind of kelp recovery back, then I think that’s going to trickle down the food chain to potentially reduced rockfish stocks and lingcod stocks.” These fish have become a vital resource for local fishermen who could not suffer from the loss of more fish popular with the public. Everything is interconnected.
Neumann has the background of experience and education to act on the needs of a smaller fishing fleet still working out of the Noyo Harbor. To uninformed outsiders, it may seem of no critical consequence whether the fleet sustains a successful industry or doesn’t. The Noyo Harbor may be small, but it is an all-weather port, one of four main fishing ports between San Francisco and the Oregon border. It is also the only harbor of refuge between Bodega Bay and Humbolt Bay. It ranks in the top ten commercial ports in California, and 43% of the marina’s slips are occupied by commercial vessels.
One of Neumann’s goals is to connect the local community with local fishermen. She points out that there is a fish market in the South Harbor every second Saturday of the month. Neumann said, “It’s a great opportunity for them to come out and meet fishermen. We have a great local connection to seafood. They can often buy fresh fish directly from the docks. It’s a great way to know your fishermen, know that your food is coming fresh, and help support small families in the meantime.” Neumann recommends the public watch for flyers posted around town advertising independent fish sales on other Saturdays. Neumann commented, “I feel there’s a missed connection between a community that loves to eat fish and fishermen who love to sell fish.”
Neumann is also an ardent fan of Fort Bragg. Growing up in the foggy coastal town of Morro Bay has acclimated her to Fort Bragg’s typical climate. She said, “I love this community. It’s beautiful and tiny and you know everyone. Folks are nice and they’re helpful, They’re actually interested in how your day is going. It’s just a really unique, small-town up here.” Being a dedicated harbormaster brought her thoughts back to the concerns of the local fishermen. “We need to make sure the infrastructure is there to meet their needs. We’re supporting our friends and neighbors in the most basic way they’re making a living.” In spite of all her duties, she will definitely not be sidelining fostering community support for its hardworking fleet out on the waters and the harbor it comes home to.
(courtesy, the Fort Bragg Advocate)