Whether you’re a visitor or a longtime local, if you’re on the Oregon Coast, seafood is an essential experience. And to make that encounter be the best it can be, it’s good to know a thing or two like: What’s fresh and when? Is it safe to buy off the boat? What do I do with this fish (or crab, or shrimp, etc.) once I’ve got it?

You can get answers to these questions and many more at free Shop at the Dock tours in Garibaldi and Newport. These 90-minute guided tours are led by industry experts and aim to take the mystery out of everything seafood — from selecting to savoring.

You’ll discover where to find local seafood, what’s in season, how it’s caught, if it’s sustainable, how to prepare it, how to store it and what questions to ask to get the best catch of the day. You’ll also learn about the different fishing vessels, take a few recipes home with you and chat with fishermen or cannery operators who have been on the job for decades and have a wealth of information to share.

Shop at the Dock is run by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon State University Extension Service. Lincoln County Commissioner Kaety Jacobson helped launch the initiative in Newport back in 2014. She led the tours there when she was a fisheries specialist with Oregon Sea Grant and OSU Extension. She grew up in a commercial fishing family in Newport, currently enjoys sport fishing and considers herself “a hearty seafood eater.”

Jacobson said the program started after a study revealed many consumers were intimidated by the process of purchasing seafood at a dock. Those who did buy seafood directly from fishermen had learned to do so from a friend or family member. Which is why Oregon Sea Grant and OSU Extension set out to become that “friend” and educate others.

“It’s like having a conversation with a friend who shows you how to shop and buy quality, direct products,” Jacobson said. “It demystifies the process and streamlines it for everyone.”

For example, during the Garibaldi tours, participants get a behind-the-scenes look at the Fish People Seafood Market at Garibaldi Landing and The Spot seafood market, as well as culinary demonstrations and tastings from The Garibaldi Portside Bistro. Tour guests can look forward to perhaps meeting fishermen as they unload their bounty, sample and learn how to make tuna tacos, smoke a salmon, shuck a crab or filet a halibut from the pros.

“Every tour is different depending on what we have going on that day,” said Jeremy Zeller, a supervisor at Fish People. “It has been really successful. People love it.”

The Newport tours include visits to commercial fishing docks, looking for fresh products to buy and learning how to purchase seafood directly from fishermen — all with an Oregon Sea Grant staff member at your side to guide you through the process.

Those who have experienced Shop at the Dock say it’s an opportunity not to be missed if you’re a true seafood lover. Michael Tarachow and Merce Dostale, of Warrenton, have been on four different tours and say each one has been fun and fascinating.

“Going to so many might sound a bit strange,” Tarachow said. “Like watching the same movie over and over again. But each time there’ve been different boats rigged for different fisheries, different captains or crew willing to talk about their work, their beliefs and knowledge about sustainable fishing and sometimes simply banter with us.”

The couple added they like to cook seafood and the more they’ve learned on the tours, the more they’ve cooked and the better their dinners have tasted as a result. They’re also mindful of pursuing their passion in an eco-friendly way and said the tours offer insights on that as well.

“Oregon could have the most sustainable, least polluting fisheries on the planet,” said Tarachow. “But if no one buys their catch they’ll collapse.”

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