PORTLAND, Ore. — Two Ocean County residents were among the three men who died Tuesday as their commercial crabbing boat capsized in rough waters off Oregon.
The Coast Guard said the vessel, the Mary B. II, overturned about 10 p.m. Tuesday as it crossed Yaquina Bay bar in Newport, Oregon. The bar is one of the most notorious off the Oregon coast. Authorities said crews faced 12- to 14-foot waves as they tried to rescue the fishermen.
James Lacey, 48, of South Toms River, was pulled from the ocean by helicopter and flown to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Stephen Biernacki, 50, of Barnegat Township, was the boat’s skipper. His body was found on the hull of the boat after it, too, washed up on a jetty.
The body of a third man, Joshua Porter, 50, of Toledo, Oregon, washed up on a beach early Wednesday.
Barnegat Light Mayor Kirk O. Larson, whose mother, Marion Oliver Larson, owns Viking Village commercial fishing dock, knew both Ocean County men but was unaware of their deaths when contacted late Wednesday afternoon.
“Jim Lacey used to work for me for years and years and years. That’s horrible. He worked for me quite a few years ago,” Larson said. “For any fisherman, it’s a horrible thing to hear.”
Lacey was always nice to him and had bumped around from dock to dock to dock forever, Larson said.
“Jim Lacey has fished with everybody,” Larson said.
Biernacki worked for Larson’s mother for years, said Larson, who is Viking Village’s chairman of the board.
“Actually, he ran a boat up on the beach in North Beach about 20 years ago,” said Larson, chuckling as he remembered the incident.
Larson said he had not seen Biernacki in a while and was not close with either man.
Capt. Eddie Yates, president of the United Boatmen of New Jersey, has been fishing in Barnegat Light for 41 years. He knew Lacey and Biernacki were both from the Ocean County area, but he was unaware of their deaths.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Yates said
Yates did not know they were working on the Oregon coast.
“He (Biernacki) used to work for me part time many years ago,” said Yates, adding he knew Lacey from being around town. “I haven’t seen Steve around for a couple of years. Commercial fishermen jump from boat to boat and town to town.”
The tragedy was nothing new for Newport, a working fishing port about 130 miles southwest of Portland on Oregon’s central coast. The small town hosts a granite memorial at Yaquina Bay etched with more than 100 names of local fishermen lost at sea over the past century and shared tragedies are woven into the fabric of the community.
“It happens frequently enough that we actually have funds that help families during this time. We fundraise all year long, and we try to help them as much as we can,” said Taunette Dixon, president of the nonprofit Newport Fishermen’s Wives, which supports families who have lost a breadwinner to the waves.
It’s so treacherous that the dangers of crossing it with a fully loaded crab boat were the premise of a spin-off of “The Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV show about commercial fishermen that aired on the Discovery channel.
“The fishermen and their families know all too well, unfortunately, that that danger is real. They accept the challenge because they love what they do,” said Tim Novotny, spokesman for the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “It’s part of who they are and what they do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.