Connection to Community and Environment: How Work in the Seafood Processing Industry in Coos County, Oregon Creates a Sense of Place
Seafood processing is an important industry along the Oregon coast as it provides employment and seafood to coastal communities as well as to international markets. The industry has been an integral part of the identity of Coos County since the establishment of salmon canneries in the late 1800’s and has shifted over time due to changes in management, markets, environmental change, and the businesses in operation. Through qualitative semi-structured interviews, a mental mapping exercise, and the application of a sense of place lens, this research identified seafood processing workers’ and employers' senses of place mediated by their work in the industry in several distinct processing plants in the region. Through their labor such as crab meat shaking, fish fileting, or quality control, workers describe a hyper-local sense of connection and belonging to the biophysical marine environment as well as to their co-workers and the community in which the product is sold. Employers experience a temporally and spatially broader sense of place that gives them the ability to adapt to dynamic conditions and heightens the resiliency of the industry. Additionally, community service providers were interviewed to provide an external perspective on the industry. They emphasized community-wide challenges such a lack of public transportation and affordable housing; many of these challenges are pertinent to processing workers. In addition to its economic value, the sense of identity and culture cultivated through the industry was described by community service providers and echoed in the sentiments of employers and workers, highlighting the seafood processing industry as a nonmaterial socio-cultural benefit in the region.