Sean Edmunds has worked at Barnacle Bill’s since he was 13 years old. His grandfather and grandmother purchased the enterprise in 1974 from the original family, who built it in 1949. It’s been in his family ever since, owned now by his mother and father, Ron and Penny Edmunds. They’ve been providing seafood including their signature smoked fish from the same red-and-white building on the eastern corner of 22nd Street and Highway 101 for three generations so far.
The family has seen markets get hot and cold, fishing restrictions tighten and relax, tourism wax and wane. Throughout this ever-changing backdrop that is the seafood industry here on the Oregon Coast, the Edmunds family has been providing high quality fresh and smoked seafood products.
There are numerous different grades of seafood and a myriad of corporations competing in a multi-billion-dollar industry. Low-quality seafood is readily available at very low prices. The advent of quick transport, long-term storage and international supply by boats that do not adhere to ecologically sound harvesting practices has changed the landscape of seafood availability.
Those avenues of cheap supply are exactly the opposite of Sean and his family’s mission. They are here to bring the highest quality from the closest sourcing. Barnacle Bill’s is still supplied by local boats from Port Orford to Astoria, the vast majority of catch coming from Pacific City and Newport, which supplies 80% of the salmon and 90% of the crab.
The supply chain is rigorously monitored by the Edmunds. The method of catch, location of catch, cleaning practices, freezing or icing methods and transportation logistics are all part of producing a finished product that is to the highest standards.
Clams, scallops and shrimp are offered, though not raised locally. They choose to offer manila clams from Willapa Bay. Shrimp and prawns are also brought in. There was a year-long effort to supply locally harvested spot prawns (a large shrimp), but after a year the venture ended, as the shrimp did not catch on with enough buyers. They were only available whole and much of the buying public did not like the fact that the heads were left on.
This effort and willingness to try new things while staying true to the original model is what makes this little seafood shack on 101 in Lincoln City thrive. If it were just up to us locals who purchase our seafood every week or each month, Barnacle Bill’s would not be the smoked fish powerhouse that it is today. Their small-town, old-fashioned smoked salmon is sent to markets in Portland, restaurants, and online buyers across the country.
The smoker, the same one that was installed in 1949, is a proprietary secret. The smoker burns fresh alder wood that the Edmunds family cuts locally. The smoking of each batch is done by Sean and Ron, his father. They both use the same original smoker, the same wood and the same recipe (brown sugar, salt and pepper).
Slight differences in the cuts of fish, heat of the fire, the length of time in the seasonings, and smoke times between father and son result in slight differences in each batch. All delicious.
One constant: the custom-built smoker is specially designed to smoke different cuts of fish in different ways. Belly, usually thicker and more moist, smokes differently than tail – and when that difference is considered, the result is a uniformly good texture and taste. And the smoker works magic on more than salmon. Barnacle Bill’s smokes tuna, halibut, ling cod, rockfish and black cod, depending on the season.
Seasonally caught fish is also carefully frozen for fresh smoking during the months when the boats aren’t allowed to fish or when the fish aren’t here. That’s why we can get fresh smoked fish at Barnacle Bill’s year-round. This is much better quality than smoked fish that has been frozen and thawed.
Barnacle Bill’s offers some custom services that you may not be aware of. Every boiled crab they sell is washed and the outside is cleaned upon purchase. Ice is offered at no charge for every order to keep your seafood cold while travelling. They offer custom smoking – they will fill orders of their smoked fish or smoke your catch for you. You can order online, for nationwide shipping. If you’ve been fishing and would like your fish frozen and shipped, they will do it.
The family routinely makes choices of supply, like that of providing manila clams instead of more readily available venus clams. This is not only due to the closer source. It has to do with core beliefs. Sean and his parents are very aware of international corporate industry practices that do not serve the consumer. They are driven to make their product choices based on eliminating those issues from their wares.
Manila clams have thinner shells which of course weigh less. Shoppers who purchase venus clams are paying for a lot of shell. Their choice of scallops is driven by the knowledge of where and how to procure scallops that are not treated to freeze with a high water content. Again, water is weight that does not translate into food.
Freezing with a high water content also negatively affects the structure of the meat and can make it mushy when it defrosts. In another bid to keep texture and flavor at its best, Barnacle Bill’s has crab tanks that keep the crab alive. You can purchase live crab or one from a batch that is boiled daily.
Seafood is uncompromising. It spoils quickly and loses texture and flavor when mishandled or over processed. When boats come in late and need to get fish offloaded right away for a quick turnaround, Sean either picks it up himself or arranges transportation and meets the catch at the shop to get it into the smoker right away. He’ll babysit a batch overnight if necessary. The weather, the fishing season and regulations dictate his schedule.
This search for a stable supply of seafood led the family to purchase its first commercial fishing vessel, out of Newport, the aptly named “Overtime”, last September. Now, Sean spends time fishing as well as cleaning, transporting and smoking the catch. He is also looking forward to the birth of his first child with his wife, Jessica, who also works at the family business. There is a strong undercurrent of pride in excellence and long-term responsibility to community in the daily actions that go into the Barnacle Bill’s experience. Many local families are under contract to independently supply Barnacle Bill’s with fish, thereby eliminating some of the pricing risk that they face when dealing with large canneries.
I love the knowledge that I am standing in front of a seafood shop that has stuck to its principles in the face of mechanism and change towards automation. At the risk of losing business to cheaper offerings, the Edmunds provide a product that tastes the way it should and isn’t full of chemicals. No tricks in the packaging to deprive me of my hard-earned dollar. They serve me with the same smile and good will as they do the children and grandchildren of the people who enjoyed their seafood years ago.
I love the Coast!