May 1, 2013 | Vol.69 No 5

Washington Fishing Ports: Keeping Pace with Today's Commercial Fishermen

Westport Marina, located in the Port of Grays Harbor, Washington boasts the state’s largest fish landing port. The marina is currently home to 285 annual boaters, two-thirds of which are the commercial fleet, including several tribal commercial fishing vessels. During the fishing seasons, transient commercial fishing boats arrive from California, Oregon, Alaska, other Washington ports and Canada, with a modest-sized charter fishing fleet still operating out of the marina.

Westport, Washington Marina offers 550 slips and can accommodate vessels in size from five feet up to 180 feet. Photo by Marc Sterling.

“We have 550 slips and can accommodate vessels in size from five feet up to 180 feet,” says Marina Manager Robin Leraas. The marina has two processing plants that process Dungeness crab, Pacific Whiting, anchovies, sardines, salmon, Albacore tuna and other fish products processed by Washington Crab Producers and Ocean Companies, as well as Westport Seafoods, Merino Seafoods, The Seafood Connection, D&M Live Crab and RPMM. The marina has a 95,000-square-foot cold storage facility, one of the largest on the West Coast, operated by Ocean Gold Seafoods, and one fueling dock owned by Masco Petroleum.

Leraas says over the years, the needs of commercial fishermen have changed, especially due to the increasing size of vessels. “Our facility was built to accommodate commercial fishing vessels that were under 40 feet but we do have a limited supply of berths over 50 feet up to 128 feet.”

Additionally, she reports that the marina is looking for funding opportunities in order to construct a work dock, haul-out and boat repair yard. “The Westport Marina Master Plan identified that fishermen do need these support facilities, and the development of these facilities are dependent on private grant or port funding availability, which we continue to seek funding for.”

On the environmental side, the Port of Grays Harbor encourages the fishing fleet to recycle and is looking into a recycle program for commercial nets and crab pots. Last year, the Port upgraded their facility with a $180,000, 18-piling creosote replacement project. “We continue to upgrade our facility as each year goes by,” says Leraas.

Up the coast, the Port of Port Townsend offers approximately 45 slips to commercial fishermen with a small commercial rafting area and heavy haul-out yard. Their marine Travelift can lift 330-ton vessels up to 150 feet long with a 31-foot beam, and their 150-foot hull washdown facility follows current environmental standards. A concreted-deck work pier can handle cranes and other heavy equipment and there is also a 10-acre dry-land storage area.

Area marine trade businesses are ready to help with repairs and refits. “We get a lot of fishermen who come down for the winter from Alaska because there are a lot of trades that work on the boats,” says Harbormaster Tami Ruby.

Ruby says the Port sees a wide variety of catch coming through including salmon, halibut and crab, and New Day Fisheries processes crab, shrimp, salmon, and more. A fuel facility is also available.

In Bellingham, Both Blaine and Squalicum marinas are certified Clean Marinas, and have 5-Star Enviro-Star ratings. Blaine has 100 slips that can accommodate commercial fishing vessels from 30 feet to 65 feet and a couple of end ties that will handle up to 100-foot boats. Additionally, they offer approximately 800 to 900 feet of side-tie storage that can accommodate any size of boat up to 80 feet, plus some limited rafting options.

There is a crab fleet, treaty and non-treaty, that operates out of the harbor, says Blaine’s Harbormaster Andy Peterson. “September through April, we have the commercial crab openings and then usually short openings for sockeye and pink salmon in August and September,” he says, noting that when the State did the buy-back program in 1999, with salmon permits, the fleet sizes shrank at both facilities but there has been a healthy resurgence in activity.

“In Blaine, we also have about a half-dozen Seine boats and at least twice that number in Squalicum that go up to Alaska every year for the salmon season,” says Peterson. “They homeport out of our facilities. We also get a bunch of boats that come through every year to load gear and get work done.”

Three seafood processor facilities are located in Blaine Harbor where crab, salmon and dogfish are processed as well as sea urchins and sea cucumbers. The harbor is also home to two boat yards, one of which operates a 30-ton travel lift and 250-ton marine ways that can haul out anything from a 90-foot King Crabber down to a 24-foot pleasure sailboat.

“They still have a regular clientele of Alaska Seine boats that come through to get a haul-out and get ready for the season,” says Peterson. “We also have another boatyard with a hydraulic trailer that can haul out up to about 50 feet.”

A 4,000-lb forklift is also available at Blaine Harbor, which fishermen can rent hourly to allow them to move their crab gear around, as well as a hydraulic net reel. “It’s a giant Seine drum mounted onto a trailer, so when they bring their boats down, they can pull the net off their boat and work right on the deck or move it to our net repair area. I think we’re one of the only ports I know of that actually has a piece of machinery like that,” says Peterson. For fueling, commercial fishermen can access the harbor’s fuel dock, which Peterson says has a very good reputation with the industry, and optionally, fuel jobbers will do bulk deliveries on an as-needed basis.

At Squalicum Harbor, there are approximately 102 slips set aside for commercial fishing vessels, as well as a sawtooth dock that is available at a daily rate which can handle up to 20 boats, depending on size. Harbormaster Chris Tibbe says the real benefit of that is not only does it have a stiff-legged crane at the end of it, it conveniently allows fishermen to drive their vehicles right out to the stern of their boats.

“We also have a gillnet loading zone with a stiff-leg crane and a hydraulic net roll trailer as well as a sizeable number of web lockers that are reserved entirely for the commercial fishermen,” he says. “Additionally, there is a fence-secured storage area so if fishermen need to change out a drum or gear from one fishery to another, they can put it in this area without worry.”

Squalicum Harbor has two fuel docks as well as bulk fuel providers who are all certified fuel-over-water operators. Local seafood buyers and processors include Bornstein Seafoods and Bellingham Cold Storage. There are a number of different companies using the space at Bellingham Cold Storage, which Tibbe says is well organized and efficiently used.

The harbor also has two boatyards, one called Seaview North that is located right inside the harbor as well as Landings at Colony Wharf and the Fairhaven Shipyard in Fairhaven. The Faithful Servant dry dock at the Fairhaven Shipyard can be pulled into Bellingham Bay and sunk so large vessels can utilize the heavy lift. Additionally, marine supplies are available at both Redden Marine Supply and Lummi Fisheries Supply, which are both located within walking distance of the commercial fleet.

Both Peterson and Tibbe say there are several marine trade businesses located right along the waterfront, which can cover most any work that commercial fishing vessels might need. And the Commercial Fisherman’s Association of Whatcom County is an active association, helping to promote the area commercial fishing facilities and marine trades.

Recent expansion work at both harbors has included, for Squalicum, a complete rebuild of their sawtooth pier, a major power upgrade to accommodate 220-volt power systems, new overhead lighting, new water systems for year-round water availability and the main deck has been newly-overlaid with asphalt. Blaine Harbor is working on redesigning their master plan for the part of the harbor that includes the processors and shipyards adjacent to their sawtooth pier.

Attracting commercial new fishing vessels and keeping those that already homeport here are priorities for the Port of Bellingham’s Board of Commissioners according to Peterson. They established a reduced moorage rate for active commercial fishermen and worked to market local marine trades businesses to the region.

This rate is in place through the end of 2013. Vessels from 0-79 feet are charged $5.90 per foot plus Washington State leasehold tax, and any boat over 80 feet is charged $6.92 per foot plus the Washington State leasehold tax. “The program is very simple to administer,” says Tibbe. “Fishermen just have to bring in their active and current fishing license and they’re good to go.”