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Legend of Richmond's fishing community passes away, age 83

Joe Bauer helped save and restore the Gulf of Gerogia Cannery in Steveston and helped design the Fisherman's Needle monument at Garry Point Park

He once saved a seal being shot by fishermen, which he called “Josephine,” and lived in his bathtub, as well as travelling in his truck.

There is no doubt about the depth of Stevestonite Joe Bauer’s connection to the sea, whether it was the Fraser River or the open ocean.

Tributes have been pouring in after the sad passing last week of Bauer, 83, a much-loved fisherman, teacher, environmentalist and social justice advocate, who was also a long-time adjunct professor with UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Closer to home, Bauer was best known as being the man who, through the Steveston Historical Society, saved the Gulf of Georgia Cannery in the ‘70s and then helped incorporate the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society.

His legacy can also be seen more on the surface at Garry Point Park, where he was behind the design of the Fisherman’s Needle monument.

Bauer’s friend of 60 years, Bud Sakamoto, also a well-respected former fisherman and community advocate, held his hand at his home a few hours before his passing.

“I saw him early afternoon. I didn’t think he was going to go that day,” an emotional Sakamoto told the Richmond News.

“I woke him up and held his hand. He acknowledged I was there. That’s the last time I saw him.

“Old age was catching up to him. He was a very honest person. He was very generous with sharing his knowledge; some fishermen don’t want to talk about the industry and how they caught the fish etc. Joe was more than happy to talk to anyone about it.”

Sakamoto recalled how the pair first met back in the ‘50s, when they used to fish the river as young as age seven, with their respective fathers, before progressing to running their own boats as teenagers.

“He started fishing with the Mosquito fleet, I think it was,” said Sakamoto.

“We worked together for decades in the industry; we went up and down the river and up the coast, travelling together to fish.

“We went all the way up to the north tip of Vancouver Island, fishing for sockeye. A lot of us used to travel as a group, it was a lot safer.”

Sakamoto remembered how, in the ‘70s, the pair pushed to save and then restore the cannery, before Bauer became the historical site’s first society president.

He said Bauer, who never married nor had children, is survived by a sister, niece and nephew in Atlanta.

“He had no immediate family around, so it was easier for him to travel up and down the coast; he had a lot of friends in the First Nations,” added Sakamoto.

“Joe was very fond of nature. He was a biologist at heart and loved all creatures great and small.”

Mayor Malcolm Brodie spoke of Bauer's passion being "instrumental in rejuvenating and preserving the Gulf of Georgia Cannery."

"Joe always spoke in very moving terms when he attended the annual tribute (at the Fisherman's Memorial) to those who lost their lives on the job each April 28th.

"He touched many lives in positive ways and his legacy will live on through his teachings and philosophies. Our condolences to his family and friends.”

Mimi Horita, of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, said they were all sad to hear of Bauer’s passing.

“He will be missed by many, especially with how generous he was in sharing stories of the fishing industry, life in Steveston, and how this Cannery was saved and kept as a national historic site,” Horita told the News.

Over at UBC, where Bauer was a professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, they referenced the “ecosystem” as being “his classroom.”

“He researched innovations in fisheries around the world and brought his findings to fishermen and fisheries managers, working to make fisheries more easily understood and sustainable.

“He also brought this passion to his work with graduate students at the University of British Columbia to help them better understand fishers, fisheries management, our fisheries, and our coupled socio-ecological systems.

“Fish truly were his passion. Friends tell stories about the huge aquarium set up that Joe had in his basement at his house in Steveston; at the time one of the largest private collections in the province. As the years went on most of the collection moved from his basement to the Vancouver Aquarium.”

Among many other selfless positions he took up in the community, Bauer was a long-time member of the auxiliary Coast Guard, working to increase fishermen’s safety at sea.

His funeral took place last week.