As the story was told, Victor McHenry, a pilot at Pan American Airlines and owner of a little boat called the GG that had sunk on its mooring in Pillar Point Harbor, told his son Michael one day, “You can have that boat if you want to re-float it.” That was all Michael had to hear. He began his fishing career at age 15, fishing in the summers until he graduated from Half Moon Bay High School in 1961. After that, he went full time on the water going down to Three Rocks every day and coming in with a boat full of ling cod.
In 1965, Michael bought the F/V Pescadero and continued his career, now as a salmon fisherman. When his abilities outgrew that boat, he built the Merva W and launched her in 1971. The legendary “Blue Boat” was named after his mother, Merva Wilson. She is a steel, 65-foot salmon/crab/albacore fishing boat. He made a name for himself throughout coastal California and Oregon as a fun-loving Irishman and a salmon fisherman extraordinaire. Fishermen were drawn to him as a natural leader and he led a following of fishermen nicknamed “The Z Squad.”
In the early 1980s he pioneered the squid fishery in Half Moon Bay, and he was the first fisherman to send truckloads of squid to market from the waters of Half Moon Bay. By then, the iconic Blue Boat was synonymous with Pillar Point Harbor and even those who had never met Michael felt his presence in the community. In a greedy turn of events in 1985, Michael overloaded his boat with squid and sank the Merva W off the coast of San Gregorio, Calif. After that, he coined the saying, “Squid ink you. And if you don’t be careful, squid sink you.” He spent the next nine months tirelessly rebuilding the iconic Blue Boat. Michael went on to deliver millions of pounds of seafood until he decided to retire in 2015. In 2013, before handing the boat off to his son Porter, Michael outfitted the boat with air chambers to make it “unsinkable.” He was not about to chance another sinking of the Blue Boat at the hand of his son. The Merva W left the shipyard in Richmond borne yet again at Michael’s hands, and better than ever.
He retired with his wife and partner, Kim, to Old Crow Farms in Maxwell, Calif. Throughout Michael’s long career, he recognized that it was not enough to just catch fish, it was necessary to lobby for fishermen and to steward the resource. He spoke in front of the California Fish and Game Commission on numerous occasions, and you could hardly find one game warden or official who did not know his name. For his activism and dedication to a lifetime of fishery issues, he was awarded the “Highliner of the Year” Award in 2012 by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. But perhaps his greatest achievement was his contribution to the salmon resource. Michael brought the idea of creating the “salmon stamp” to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations directors meeting in Sausalito in 1979. Charlie Fullerton, director of the CDFG, was present at that meeting and he liked the idea of commercial fishermen taxing themselves to help propagate the resource. Soon thereafter, the salmon stamp was born into existence along with a stamp committee to oversee its one objective — to raise more salmon. Raising salmon to smolt size and trucking them past the Delta pumps was wildly successful. Four years after its inception, California had the record year for landings, and fishermen enjoyed 25 years of salmon abundance. The 300 percent increase of the ocean abundance of salmon was all due to the raising and trucking of smolt-size salmon. When the trucking of smolts bogged down in bureaucratic and ideological missteps decades later, Michael stepped in and took the Merva W up the Sacramento River and loaded it with salmon smolts and barged them down to the Golden Gate and released them for six years in a row. He personally showed the Department of Fish and Wildlife how to save the salmon from extinction. This year, 1.3 million salmon smolts were released by Fish and Wildlife at the Golden Gate; the total number of all hatchery production in California went to sea from trucks at this location.
Michael requested that no celebration of life nor any other type of public memorial be held in his honor. His partner and wife, Kim, will honor that request. He only wished that people might privately raise a glass and toast him when he was gone. An era has passed.
Michael, know we toast you and the memories you gave us.
Michael McHenry lost a long battle with prostate cancer. He is survived by his son, Porter McHenry, of San Gregorio, Calif., daughter Lindsey Sinclair, of New York, N.Y., wife Kim McHenry, of Maxwell, Calif., and stepdaughters Amanda, of El Granada, Calif., and Chelsea, of Fairfield, Calif. Michael also leaves behind three grandchildren, Eloise and Katherine Sinclair and Kade Michael McHenry.