Seaside Stories

Bell Buoy Stays in the Family

December 13, 2021 | by Lisa Anderson

Trent Hartill vividly remembers the eye-catching vintage sign at Seaside’s iconic seafood market Bell Buoy and the friendly staff who made him feel right at home during family trips in the early 1980s. As luck would have it, Hartill’s father and uncle bought Bell Buoy in 2002, transforming it into the booming seafood market and restaurant it is today.

Hartill, 39, has now returned to Seaside to take the helm of Bell Buoy after spending more than a decade in Alaska. “There are not many small seafood processors left on the coast of Oregon that focus on selling locally sourced, sustainable seafood directly to the public,” Hartill says. “Bell Buoy has been in our family for 20 years, and I want to continue that tradition.”

Hartill grew up in Astoria and received a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife from Oregon State University. After college he worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife, managing commercial fisheries throughout the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands. There Hartill learned the importance of sustainable management to support the economic well-being of coastal communities.

“Sustainable fishing practices start with the economics of the industry,” Hartill says. “The foundation of the industry is longevity and predictability. Having strong, sustainable fisheries that can provide income to fishermen drives the economy. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have sound management and good fishery regulations.”

Hartill says he’s proud that Bell Buoy sources about 80% of its seafood products from within 50 miles of the business. Fishers and clam diggers bring in salmon from the Columbia River, oysters from Willapa Bay and razor clams from less than a mile from Bell Buoy. Many longtime connections with fishers and clam diggers date back decades, if not generations.

“It’s interesting, it keeps you moving, and the stories are unbelievable,” says Terry Hartill, Trent’s father, who is retiring after 55 years in the industry. “I’m glad Trent had the interest to take over the family business.”

Commercial razor clam digger Leonard Teeple has delivered to Bell Buoy for more than 50 years and knew Hartill’s father from childhood, so he’s happy to work with the next generation. “I’m almost 72, and Trent is just a little bit older than my boys,” Teeple says. “He’s enthusiastic, fun and bright.”

Reconnecting with people like Teeple has made it a joy for Hartill to return to the North Coast. “The one thing that has stood out to me in the few months I’ve owned the business is the tight-knit nature of the community,” Hartill says. “I’ve been gone for more than 20 years, but the people here are welcoming and generous. It’s been a comfortable transition, largely because of the sense of community that Seaside and the North Coast offer.”

One of Hartill’s goals is to make seafood less intimidating to cook. He enjoys experimenting with recipes and sharing them on his “Dock to Dinner” column on Bell Buoy’s website, like his razor clam dip. “A lot of people are less sure of what to do with, say, a petrale sole or rockfish fillet,” Hartill says. “I want people to understand these products are easy to cook.”

Hartill says Bell Buoy will continue to be family-run, with his cousin as the operations manager and his sister as the communications director. And despite Bell Buoy being one of the last canneries on the Oregon Coast, Hartill intends to carry on its legacy that dates back to 1946. Hartill is soaking up as much knowledge as he can as his father transitions into retirement after a 55-year run in the industry.

“We’re a good business in part because of our simplicity,” Hartill says. “We source good products and make them available to the public. I plan on staying true to that for many years.”
 

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