Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

West Coast Ports 2015


Commercial fishing is a huge economic driver for Port Townsend, Washington, says executive director Larry Crockett. Photo courtesy of the Port of Port Townsend.

Commercial fishing ports, harbors, boat yards, and supporting marine trades are the figurative backbone of the fishermen who work in Pacific West Coast and Alaskan waters.

commercial fishing is a prominent part of the fishing industry in Homer Harbor, located on Kachemak Bay near the mouth of Alaska's Cook Inlet. Facilities include a 345-foot long fish dock in the harbor that has eight public access cranes on it. Fishermen can register with the Harbor, receive training and obtain a crane access card to operate the equipment for unloading gear and other tasks. The fish dock also has a city-owned and operated ice plant capable of producing 100 tons of high-quality flake ice in 24 hours that's delivered at the dock or by tote to the vessels.

Additionally, there are two fuel floats and a large transient moorage system called System 5, for larger tender crabber class vessels, plus power stalls when available. "Recently, we upgraded the electrical system on System 5 and tripled the service," says harbormaster Bryan Hawkins. "We're adding water and power utilities to many of the other floats as well this year... big improvements in the float systems that support the commercial fleet."

Fish buyers compete to buy product from fishermen, which generally brings a higher price to the fishermen and brings more of them to Homer. "Homer has been leading the State in commercial halibut landings for many years because of that competitive marketplace atmosphere," says Hawkins.

More than 66 marine trades businesses, which are part of the Homer Marine Trades Association (, also support fishermen with every aspect of boat building, maintenance, repair and more.

A new, up-and-coming Homer Repair Facility is currently taking shape as an alternative option for large vessels unable to haul-out at other privately-owned Homer boat yards, but seeking to complete their projects and repairs locally. Larger flat-bottomed vessels can be hauled out by a local contractor who uses cylindrical air bags. "We're seeing more of this increased business," says Hawkins. "They're hauling them out in what, in the summertime, is our campground. In the winter, we use it for the marine repair yard."

The herring season has gotten off to a slow start but the salmon seasons have been good the last couple of years. Notably, Seiner newbuilds have been taking shape in the area as well as new gillnetters, giving a nod to the expansions in those fish industries. The larger, 58-foot by 26-foot seiners seem to be replacing the smaller vessels as they are doing combination fisheries.

The Homer port and harbor are home to a large salmon, herring, halibut and bering sea crabbing fleet. "A lot of the vessels that come up from Seattle come to Homer because we're centrally located," says Hawkins. "We run a 24-hour watch here at the Harbor office. Many of the out-of-town vessel owners will leave their vessels with us when they fly home for a break."

Big Squid

While squid is the largest commercial fishing industry in the Port of Ventura, other fisheries are also part of the thriving commerce of activities, including stone crab, lobster, sea bass and halibut. In fact, the Port is the 10th largest producer of seafood in the US.

"When squid season is going well, we're usually running about 1,000 tons a day through Ventura Harbor, and that usually happens in September, October and November," says Robert A. Bartosh, president of Ventura Harbor Boat Yard, Inc., who co-owns a boat yard in Ventura as well as a commercial fueling facility and a wet-fish loading facility called Ventura Packers. "The boats will catch squid by purse seining and will unload anywhere from 25 percent to a third of the 118,000 ton quota."

About 38 vessels homeport at Ventura during the busy squid season. A similar number of light boats either homeport in the Channel Islands or Ventura Harbor. The Port's commercial facilities include three unloading facilities, one of which is run by State Fish Company, another by Del Mar Seafoods. Other coastal unloading facilities include San Pedro and Moss Landing.

The Harbor also has a large, recently-refurbished commercial pier, and the Ventura Port District is currently undergoing the permitting process in order to tear out one of its long fingers of docks that hold 35- to 40-foot boats and replace them with half as many but twice-as-large purse seine slips for purse seiners that will accommodate up to 80-foot boats.

Ventura Harbor is a green facility. When vessels are hauled into the boatyard, the runoff is collected and sifted through a clarifier and disposed of according to environmental regulations. For squid unloading operations, none of the stick water is dumped into the harbor; it is held in tanks until all of the squid is unloaded, then it's pumped back into the boats to discharge when they're out in the open seas.

Bartosh says 2012 was a banner year in terms of the squid fishery. "Most of the squid was caught around the Channel Islands and at that time, the ex-vessel price was $650 a ton. And the price FOB to China was around $1,800 to $2,000 for A-grade squid, the highest it's ever been." In 2014, more than half the squid was caught north of Ventura in Moss Landing or San Francisco Bay.

Bartosh notes that there seems to be a push toward larger interests purchasing and leasing facilities or purchasing boats and permits to monopolize them in order to take advantage of obtaining lots based on prior fishing history (Independent Fishing Quotas or IFQs). "For example, a boat owner with five boats and five permits would be allowed a certain percentage of the quota rather than the quota just being 118,000 in tons and whoever catches it catches it," he says.

The squid industry is a limited fishing industry, with just 75 limited entry permits that target a catch of about 6,500 tons per day, says Bartosh. "I think commercial fishing will remain strong. It's a big producer of seafood, and while the profitability will re-adjust, I think a lot of homeporting will continue to be out of Ventura."

Direct to Consumer

During the height of the squid season, San Mateo Harbor can see 40 trucks a day waiting to unload catch in the L-shaped basin. John Draper, acting harbormaster who has been on the job for 30 years, says they're looking to change one corner of the L-layout so the trucks will be able to drive straight down to the turnaround where the buying stations are located at the end of the pier, rather than having to back all the way down as they do now. An additional parking bay is also under consideration.

"During crab season, I can have several different companies here working through our wholesalers to unload their crab or salmon," says Draper. "If we have a turnaround with three different bays down there, then each of the fish-buying facilities will have their own spot."

About 50 percent of the Harbor's 369 slips are geared to commercial fishermen; the main fisheries being salmon, Dungeness crab and squid. Commercial vessel sizes range from 65 to 80 feet. salmon season begins in May and is very busy for four months when the squid season begins, while the crabbing season starts in mid November and goes until mid January. Fish sales to the public also take place. Nearly 10,000 people arrive every weekend to buy fish off the boats.

Draper reports the squid catch has been tremendous the past few years. Last year was the first year San Mateo Harbor received returns on the local salmon from the hatchery that were put into net pens for a brief time in order for them to be acclimated.

In general, Draper says the commercial fishing fleet is strong and there are plenty of amenities for the transient boats as well. "We're well known up and down the West Coast within 120 miles of the Harbor," he says. There is no Coast Guard here so we do all the search and rescue, and the fishermen really rely on us for that. We have a good relationship with them."

Clean Marina

Of the 1,400 slips available at Bellingham's Squalicum Harbor, about 170 and a few side-tie areas are dedicated to commercial fishing vessels. The harbor sees about 250 vessels a year when transient fishermen come to have work done or resupply. "The slips account for about 10 percent of our total marina, but we've devoted about half of the total acreage of our facility to their needs," says harbormaster Kyle Randolph.

Vessels ranging from 32 to 110 feet come to do their seasonal prep work. Two loading areas provide tie-ups for approximately 10 boats plus two cranes that can hold up to 4,000 pounds and a reasonably-priced hourly forklift rental. In addition, there are designated net repair areas, indoor storage lockers and fenced outdoor storage areas. The capacity of the sawtooth pier allows for the handling of large fueling trucks so fishermen can buy bulk fuel and have the trucks deliver right to their vessel. In fact, this pier was recently upgraded to accommodate transient fishing vessels, allowing the boats to back up to it and carry out whatever unloading, construction, etc. The net rollers are also about to be replaced.

"We also offer a reduced active commercial fishing rate," says Randolph. "If commercial fishermen provide a recent ticket and fishing license, they get a significant reduction. The rate, which is less than for the smallest recreational slips, is supported through the local government, so commercial fisherman pay about seven dollars a foot." Nearby supporting businesses provide custom fish processing, freezer and cold storage is available, and the on-site boatyard allows for all manner of maintenance and repair work.

On the environmental side, Squalicum Harbor is a 5-Star Enviro Star business as well as a certified clean marina, which offers bilge water, fuel, oil disposal and hazardous chemicals handling as well as a net recycling. All storm water drains are directed into a catchment basin which filters out oils and other pollutants to ensure only clean wastewater is discharged. All on-site staff have Hazmat training and are also linked with the Port of Bellingham's environmental response team.

As the Sitka, Alaska herring run looms, fishermen at Squalicum Harbor are busy readying their vessels during March and April. Purse seiners and gillnetters flock to the facility during April to June. During June and July those preparing for the Fraser River pinks and sockeye salmon runs are also gearing up for the season. In July and August, local boats prepare for the Coho and king salmon that they harvest directly out of the local fishery. And from October through to April, local crabbers work in Puget Sound.

"We are encouraged by the reinvestment of the boats on the part of the fishermen," says Randolph. "Every five years we perform an extensive review of the impact of the commercial fishing fleet. We're aware they contribute hundreds of millions of dollars for the local economy. All of Whatcom County benefits. We think the commercial fishing industry is going to continue to grow strong."

Busy Boatyards

About 40 commercial fishing vessels that range between 80 and 100 feet are homeported at the Port of Port Townsend. Most fishermen head up to Alaska for the summer fishing season, while others that are based in Alaska, come to the Port for seasonal repairs.

The Port's shipyard can haul-out vessels up to 330-tons where additional linear moorage is available. Next to the yard is a 75-ton haulout with two other smaller lifts. "We're really booming hauling these big boats out and the marine trades are working feverishly to get them all done in the next 90 days so they can get back in the water," says executive director Larry Crockett.

In 2014, the Port moved 281 large commercial vessels and another 1,646 of the smaller recreational vessels. "The commercial guys are on a steady increase year after year," says Crockett. "I think that's a combination of several good fishing seasons and the guys reinvesting in their boats. "Walking through the yard, you'll see something of every type of work being done." In fact, the Port has recently spent approximately $300,000 in refurbishing the float structures in the commercial basin to handle the larger vessels.

A new series of catchment basins within the boatyard have recently been installed which add to the large already-established stormwater RX systems that helps reduce heavy metals coming off the metal roofs and galvanized structures such as fences. Additionally, an on-site environmental compliance officer assists boat owners and their crews as well as marine trades businesses to adhere to best management practices.

"In 2016, they're going to rewrite the boat yard permit again," says Crockett. "It's always more restrictive. At some point, it's going to be difficult to keep the yard open and meet the requirements for copper, lead and zinc in the storm water," he says, referring to the fact that there are only about 62 boat yards in Puget Sound as opposed to more than 100 in recent years.

"Commercial fishing is a huge economic driver for us," says Crockett. "It's that second and third order effect of economic development that these vessels bring to our community. It's not just the marine-related part of it. It's all the other ancillaries rounding out the community and the character that we have here."

Heavy Haulout

The city of Kodiak owns multiple port and harbor facilities in Kodiak, which include 30,000 linear feet of moorage floats for vessels up to 200 feet. Other harbor facilities include loading docks, launch ramps and tidal grids. Of the three deep-draft harbor piers, Pier 1 ferry terminal and Pier 2 fishermen's terminal are used for the loading, unloading and maintenance for the larger commercial fishing fleet. Pier 3 container terminal is used primarily for cargo vessels.

The Pier 3 container terminal is being replaced in a $35 million project scheduled for completion in Sept of 2015, which will make it one of only three deep-draft container terminal facilities in Alaska. It will also be equipped with a $10 million all-electric Gantry crane that the larger commercial vessels will be able to use. Then starting in September, the ferry terminal will be replaced at a cost of approximately $14 million.

The city of Kodiak also owns, manages and operates an $18-million shipyard with a 660-ton travel lift (the second one of this size on the West Coast) which can handle vessels up to 180 feet in length and up to 42 feet wide.

"Our current yard can handle six vessels in that vessel size class at time," says Lon A. White, port and harbor director. "We have state-of-the-art wash-down facilities and are a fully environmentally-compliant shipyard."

Halibut, cod, salmon, herring and a variety of other smaller fisheries are active throughout the year. Overall, the fisheries have been stable, with an exceptional pollock season so far this year.

"We are seeing consolidation of fishing fleets, seeing more limited entry into the different fisheries. That has some positive and negative impacts," White observes. "The total number of vessels in this business now seems to have declined but the vessels that remain appear to be more financially stable. We have the infrastructure here to support all the commercial fisheries but also have the transportation to get people in and out of Kodiak. There are several commercial fights to and from Anchorage daily."

Diverse Fisheries

At the Port of Seattle, which celebrated its centennial last year, business with the commercial fleet continues to be robust. Fishermen's Terminal is in the middle of a $3M upgrade of its 240,000 square feet of covered storage gear lockers. The majority of the Port's commercial fleet fishes Alaskan waters such as Bristol Bay, Southeast Alaska and the bering sea.

"Because Fishermen's Terminal is a 'Home Port', we provide a vast array of services and facilities for the fleet to gear up for the fishing seasons," says Kenneth Lyles, senior manager, fishing and commercial vessels. "Refit and repair of fishing vessels takes place with the painting and haul out services taking place at the on-site ship yard." Two marine ways are also on-site at the fishing vessel Owners Shipyard, which can haul up to 79 feet. A 5-ton and 3-ton crane are located on the west wall, and two 1,870-lb jib hoists are available on Docks 6 and 9.

"We provide for hazardous waste collection and recycle for used oil, batteries, fabric and metal," says Lyles. "The surrounding skilled craft service providers are seen in abundance at the terminal during this time of year such as marine electrical, refrigeration, hydraulic, welding and grinding."

A range of commercial vessels use the facilities; most are under 240 feet. These range from 36-foot gillnet vessels up to 240-foot trawl/processor ships, 160-foot freezer longline vessels, the 58-foot Seiner class vessels, as well as the historic 60-foot plus-sized wooden longline "White Fleet" halibut vessels.

Fishermen can register with the Port of Homer, Alaska, receive training and obtain a crane access card to operate the equipment for unloading gear and other tasks. Photo courtesy of the Port of Homer.

Newly-enacted Federal Legislation and loan restructuring has made it possible for the groundfish fleet to participate in recapitalization projects. As a result, new freezer longline and trawl vessels are being constructed, bringing an economic upturn to the region. In fact, the commercial fishing industry that is home-ported at Fishermen's Terminal is responsible for contributing $2 billion to the local economy.

"Because of the well-managed federal fisheries in the state of Alaska, the fishery will continue to be as vibrant as it has been in the last few years," adds Lyles. All good news, as the recent ruling from the White House has ensured the protection of sockeye salmon and the pristine marine habitat in Bristol Bay from oil and gas development activities.


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