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Fins for the Fleet 

California Mermaid throws a fest to support fisherman


Vira Burgerman is California's only licensed mermaid. "It makes people take me a little more seriously," she explains of being officially registered as a trademark mermaid. And Vira wears her elaborate, hand-stitched tails for a worthy cause.

For her day job, the mermaid cuts hair at her studio in Guerneville, but she grew up counting boats in Porto Bodega Marina with her father. She counted to make sure all who went out at first light were home safely by sunset. Growing up on the water kept the fishermen on the horizon close to her heart. "Every year there would be fewer and fewer boats," she says. The fisheries were in decline.

At age 19, Vira made her first appearance at the Fishermen's Festival as a mermaid. "I traded my rubber boots for high heels and fins," she says proudly. She took on the annual "blessing of the fleet" to ensure a good harvest and to honor the fallen fishermen. Over the years, Vira has lost friends to the sea and found herself to be a symbol of comfort for the families. "Mermaids take care of the fishermen lost at sea."

In 1998, Vira spent her life savings to launch the first Mermaidfest in order to spotlight independent fisheries. "I'm really dedicated to the fishermen," she says. "They trust me." The fishermen told her that true help begins with restoration of the rivers and tributaries. Everything ends up downstream. "I knew nothing about rivers or tributaries," she admits. She went to work and hasn't stopped.

Vira's Mermaidfest has evolved into a venue for marine and waterway conservation education for all ages. Slated this year for Sunday Oct. 25, from 11am to 7pm, Mermaidfest supports the nonprofit Community Clean Water Institute at the Monte Rio Amphitheater with live music by the Jug Dealers, Levi Lloyd and George Heagerty. Plenty of kids' events, beer and food. Costumes welcome—bring your fins! Monte Rio Amphitheater, 9925 Main St., Monte Rio. $5 donation; under 12, free. 707.484.8767.

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