Former Barnegat Light Fishermen Perish on West Coast

Jan 16, 2019
Their 42-foot fishing vessel, Mary B II, rolled over in a reported 16-foot breaker while trying to reach port through a stormy Pacific Coast channel at Newport, Oregon.

The flag flew at half-mast for several days outside Barnegat Light Borough Hall in memory of two commercial fishermen who once worked on boats here. Stephen Biernacki, 50, a former Barnegat Light fishing boat captain who had moved to Newport, Oregon; and James Lacey, 48, a South Toms River man who previously fished from Barnegat Light, perished on Jan. 8 along with Joshua Porter, 50, an experienced Oregon fisherman.

Their 42-foot fishing vessel, Mary B II, rolled over in a reported 16-foot breaker while trying to reach port through a stormy Pacific Coast channel at Newport, Oregon.

“Both were just hardworking guys, worked for Viking Village for probably over 20 years,” said Barnegat Light Mayor Kirk Larson, owner of a fishing fleet based at the Viking Village commercial dock. “It’s a shame they’re not going to be around anymore. They were characters, just like every other fisherman.

“Steve Biernacki worked for my mother (Viking Village dock co-owner Marion Larson) for quite a while. Jim Lacey was a mate on the Nelson Blount for a while, and worked on deck of the Mary Frances. He grew up with us all through the years.

“We all put our time in. They got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; that happens. It’s one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.”

The Mary B II, described as an older wooden boat, had just recently been purchased by Biernacki as a commercial ocean crabbing and tuna venture.

Skipper Biernacki and crew had spent the past three days crabbing before the boat encountered rough seas returning to port after nightfall. They called the Coast Guard for an escort, officials said.

US Coast Guard spokespersons said in published reports that the vessel was under escort by a 52-foot motor lifeboat approaching the Yaquina Bay bar as sets of 14-to-16-foot swells escalated from what had been four-foot swells.

“The Mary B II strayed north of the range line as it approached the bar, exposing it to breakers off the north tip and a shallow area west of there commonly called the Dumping Grounds,” reported the Newport News-Times.

Two Coast Guard boats set off flares to help illuminate the night water, but efforts could not avert the tragedy. The boat was not making headway fast enough and a wave washed over the pilothouse.

As the incident made national news, fellow fishermen, friends and family lamented the loss.

Biernacki’s spirited Facebook page, referencing noted fishing grounds in the Atlantic Ocean, said he was schooled at “Hudson Canyon University” since 1984. He added the lines, “Commercial Fishermen Feed the World!!!” and “Commercial Fisherman for Life.”

One Facebook friend posted, “God damn, old boy; ya beat me to Davy Jones,” the mythical locker of seamen lost at sea.

On another friend’s tribute post, one comment called the men “ocean legends.”

Family members and friends of Lacey set up a memorial, accessible under GoFundMe, in order to help return his remains to the East Coast to be laid for rest.

“We always knew Jim had one of the hardest jobs in the world and he wouldn’t have it any other way,” they wrote. In four days, 68 people had donated $4,840 of a $5,000 goal.

The Newport Fishermen’s Wives have also set up a fund to help the families, notably the widow of Lacey, they said. —M.S.

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