Barry Fisher

From the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center newsletter

BARRY FISHER: Dauntless leadership

It's hard to write about Barry Fisher's life, because even at a casual glance his résumé suggests that Fate shoe-horned into one man's skin the energy, intelligence, creativity, courage and goodwill of half a dozen ordinary people. It's easy to get lost in the maze of his activities and achievements -- but what an awe-inspiring landscape to be lost in.

Barry Fisher was a Gloucesterman. Add the name "Fisher" to a birthplace like that and it would be hard indeed not to go to sea. Barry did it as young as possible -- after "lumping around the wharves from age 11" -- by joining the U.S. Merchant Marine. This was in 1943: by war's end, still in his early teens, he had seen North Africa and the Mediterranean, witnessed the Allied re-invasion of France, been on the infamous Murmansk convoy in the Russian Arctic, and had his ship torpedoed from under him by a German U-boat.

After the war, he was granted just a few short years of peace in which to roam the east coast fisheries, from North Carolina's Cape Hatteras to Newfoundland's Grand Banks. Then came Korea, and during two tours of combat duty in the U.S. Army he collected a shoulder-load of medals, including two Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantry badge, three Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation medal, the U.S. Presidential and Korean Presidential Distinguished Unit citation, and four Battle Stars on his Korean Service medal.

Those medals were hard-won. The citation for the first of his two Bronze Stars reads, in part:

Sgt. Fisher was leading a reconnaissance patrol on the Central Northeastern Korean Front on the 13th of April, 1952.... The patrol came under intense weapons fire from a large enemy patrol.... Realizing the seriousness of the situation, and with total disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Fisher boldly dashed some 45 to 50 yards through heavy enemy fire to reach the enemy. He hurled several grenades, and kept firing his own personal weapon as he charged..... Stunned by this one-man assault, the remaining enemy forces rapidly became disorganized.... The enemy withdrew.... As a result of his dauntless leadership, Sgt. Fisher and his men inflicted great damage and many casualties on a numerically superior enemy.

In a subsequent engagement, this "dauntless leadership" left him recovering from serious wounds in an Army hospital. But relaxation wasn't Barry's style; he used the time to get a GED, and the GED took him to Harvard, where he earned a B.A. in History.

Harvard was important to him for more than just books, however. While there, he met and married Carol Lee Smith. In 1955 and 1957, his sons Christopher and Frederick were born. After a period on a timber cruiser in South America, he came back to Harvard for a Master's in Education, and then came the first of several periods of teaching.

In 1964, Barry bought a 65-foot dragger and returned to fishing out of New Bedford. But the boat burned and sank, and in 1968 he accepted a post as Associate Professor of Fisheries at Oregon State.

Soon after he started teaching at Oregon State, in 1969, Barry met Joe Easley, who is now Administrator of the Oregon Trawl Commission. Easley describes Barry as "very bright, well-educated, a good writer and a good speaker" -- and also "well, you know, a bit profane at times. But above all he was tremendously generous with both his time and his resources: a man who put his own money where his mouth is."

He was at OSU until 1974, when the sea called once again, and between 1974 and 1995 he captained and owned a succession of vessels on the west coast, was actively involved in the development of gear and other technology, and introduced midwater trawl fishing to the west coast.

People with long memories of Barry will recall him skippering the fifty-foot Mi Toi. Then came Excalibur, which he built at Coos Bay in 1977. Excalibur is still jointly owned by Carol Fisher and Barry's close friend Mike Retherford, who has been fishing Oregon waters since he was 18. Retherford -- speaking by 'phone from the deck of the Excalibur described Barry in glowing terms. "He was a good businessman but also a giver, always willing to help someone. He put his heart into what he felt was right, and always felt he should be doing more. The kind of person you meet once in a lifetime."

During the 1970s he also fought through substantial opposition to pioneer an innovative and immensely successful joint venture with Soviet fisher processors -- by far the biggest commercial link between Russia and American companies during the 1980s. Barry noted, with a mixture of amusement and pride, that he was "the only foreigner ever carried on the active duty rolls of the Soviet State Fishing Company, as a Master Mariner, and Senior Master Mariner and Navigator."

From the late 1970s on, Barry devoted great energy and generosity to fisheries education. He contributed heavily to marine fisheries programs at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center. He also supported the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Conservation Law Foundation, and other organizations too numerous to list. From 1983, he was president of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, and was an effective spokesman for fisheries interests at the highest levels of regulation and government. In 1985, he was appointed to the OSU faculty as a Professor of Fisheries.

Stewart Toshach of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center describes him as inventive, tenacious, and disciplined. "He was warm, charming, a good listener -- and you always knew where you stood. Barry was a guy who told you loud and clear what you wanted to hear, and what you didn't want to hear -- and he always knew which was which."

Nothing could be more appropriate than a research facility at Newport bearing his name. As Senator Ron Wyden said, in a letter to Carol Fisher, "one of Barry's greatest gifts to us all was his insistence on better, more accurate research about ocean fisheries. We must carry on his important work."

Alexander Popov, President of Russia's Binom fisheries company, has spoken of the man's great personal impact: "Every nation has its heroes. I'm not speaking about presidents or politicians. I'm talking about simple people who have the gift for making simple people happy. Barry Fisher had that gift. Not only in the United States but also in Russia, he became a legend."

A remarkable storyteller, Barry spoke fluent Spanish, and could get by in several other languages, including Russian and Portuguese. Of dory fishing out of Gloucester, at aged 17, he said dryly: "I never enjoyed a fishery ever again as much as I enjoyed dory fishing.... I never thought much about money. What I had, I spent, and then it was back to George's Bank for another withdrawal."

Bob Schoning, a colleague and friend of many years, who read the eulogy at Barry's memorial service, said that you could sum up Barry Fisher just by placing the word "good" in front of the nouns Husband, Father, Grandfather, Friend, Patriot, Soldier, Fisherman, Team Player, Leader, Philanthropist, Writer, Thinker, Speaker, Champion, Pioneer.

Barry fished in four seas and five oceans, from the equator to the Arctic, and his friendship and generosity left their mark on thousands of people. He succumbed to cancer, passing away on March 17, and rests now in Willamette National Cemetery. He was 72; to many of his friends, paradoxically, it seemed both incredible that he was not younger, and incredible that he could have packed so much into just one life.

Rod Moore, of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, remembers how -- even when his active fishing days were over, and he became a "shore captain," Barry never turned aside from his support of the fishing community.... As age and disease took their inevitable tolls, Barry refused to slow down.... It is an example of his concern that he asked that donations be sent to a fund to help economically strapped fishing families.... We all know Barry as one-of-a-kind who will not be replaced."


From NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Centers's Special Edition: Newport Groundbreaking (The Barry Fisher Building) 

For information on The Barry Fisher Building, check NOAA's website at this link.