On the east side of the big green port building in Old Town Bandon is one of the newest businesses in Bandon, Watson’s Live Seafood. Although seafood for sale is ubiquitous on the coast, what Rob Watson and Joleen Lambert have is rare, and they are proud of what they have to offer.
Rob is no stranger to the world of boats, fish, and wildlife. He was born and raised in Oregon, and from his experiences growing up on a ranch and learning the finer points of hunting and fishing from generations of Oregon family, he knows how to keep his catch fresh and safe for eating.
While living in the Grants Pass area, Rob was working as a landscape contractor when the housing market crashed. He had a boat and talked to some friends of his who were catching and selling live fish, and he thought it might be a good thing to try. Within a year, he had 3 permits and several boats, and he and Joleen started their own company.
Joleen moved from California to Grants Pass as a young adult and met Rob through the world of hydroplane racing. She moved to Langlois with him when he started fishing in Bandon and had to quickly shift from a growing home daycare business when they got the opportunity to move into the shop. Having grown up around fishing, boats, and water, Joleen was no stranger to fish. She laughed, explaining that she’s become more knowledgeable than her father.
In the spring of 2016, Rob talked to the port manager at the Port of Bandon about selling fish off of the dock, and she suggested that he talk to John and Peggi Towne who were running a fish market and thinking about retiring. He learned that no one in the area was selling fresh fish straight out of the ocean, and 2 weeks later, Rob and Joleen were signing a 3 year lease for the building space and began a new chapter in their lives. Watson’s Live Seafood was born.
Rob and Joleen got things started right away. They moved in with only a few things for sale in the case, but in just a year, they had completely remodeled the place, filled the case, lined the shelves, and business has been steady.
Most of the fish for sale at Watson’s Live Seafood is caught by Rob himself in the waters between Bandon and Port Orford. The rockfish and lingcod are available year-round, and Rob is out in the boat for day fishing several times a week to get them, weather permitting.
Catching the fish himself as close by as possible means there are no middlemen involved, and the fish sold in the shop is as fresh as it can be. He quickly sells what he catches, so the fish doesn’t stay in the case very long. Rob explains that most of the fish for sale in markets and grocery stores sit on the boats for a few days before it even gets to the shore. From the boats, they go to a processor, then to a distributor, and finally to the store a few days later. In contrast, Rob says, “We don’t have anything more than 2 days from the time it got bonked.”
An exciting new addition to Watson’s Live Seafood includes five 200 gallon tanks with a chiller and biofilter system to keep live fish and live crab. They currently have tanks at their house in Langlois, but keeping them at the store shortens the time the fish are out of the water and increases the freshness. They will also be able to stockpile live fish on the days when the weather makes the ocean too rough to go out.
Not everything Rob and Joleen sell is from the Bandon and Port Orford area. The oysters are from Charleston and north into Washington state; they do best in colder water. The wild prawns and the ahi tuna are also not local, but as Watson’s Live Seafood only sells the best food they can, they are careful to buy only wild (not farm raised) seafood. “I would rather not sell you anything than sell you something I wouldn’t feed my only family,” Rob says with conviction.
The community has responded very well to this relatively new business. Rob and Joleen were not sure how they would fare the colder months in a town that is somewhat sleepy in the winter, but they had no problem keeping the business going. Rob partially attributes this to the conversations they have had with customers, educating them about fresh fish. “If it smells like fish,” he says, “don’t eat it.” He’s noticed that many locals have changed their eating habits to include more fish since buying it from them and are becoming more aware of what they eat. Business does pick up in the summer, and people even come from the valley with ice chests to fill up with fish and take home. Rob, with a bit of amazement, said, “We’re just growing by leaps and bounds; we can’t keep up with it!”
There is more than just seafood for sale in the Watson’s Live Seafood shop. Rob and Joleen make and sell their own salmon and tuna spreads and crab dip with entirely local fish and crab and the crackers to put it on. They also sell all kinds of ingredients necessary for preparing and cooking fish as well as locally made fudge.
Rob and Joleen also sell beef and lamb from Cascade All-Natural Meat in Myrtle Creek and Roseburg. As with everything else in the shop, the beef is as healthy as possible. The cows and lambs are pasture raised and grass finished; they do not eat GMO grain. Rob wants people to understand that they “don’t have anything in here that we won’t feed our own 5-year old or our own grandma.”
Rob and Joleen with their daughter Mabeleen are excited to be in the clean and happy town of Bandon. They are proud of Watson’s Live Seafood that has grown so quickly and is such a great source of healthy, fresh seafood. Rob told a story of an inspector who came from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to check out the shop and Rob’s remodel. After finishing up, he ordered 50 pounds of lingcod from them. “He checks out all the seafood markets in the whole area and chose us to purchase his fish.” It made them pretty happy.
Having Watson’s Live Seafood in Bandon makes us pretty happy too.