Crabbers rebound after seafood facility fire in southwest Washington

Washington State Senator Jeff Wilson and U.S. Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez talk with commercial fisherman Jay Vaughn in Ilwaco about the impacts of a Jan. 22 seafood facility fire on local fishermen. Vaughn did not lose any gear, but was able to provide some to fishermen who had some.

Katie Frankowicz/KMUN

On Monday, commercial crabbers in Oregon and Washington began throwing baited circular steel crab pots into the ocean.

On Thursday they will start hauling them in – hopefully full of Dungeness crab.

This is a critical and rapid time. Most of the crab caught in this lucrative fishery is usually landed in the first weeks of the season.

On the water this week, fishermen watched as hundreds of crab pots burned in a fire at a seafood landing facility in Ilwaco, Washington, a week before the fishery was scheduled to open. fishing.

An estimated 4,000 jars were lost in the Jan. 22 fire at the Bornstein Seafoods facility. Today, almost as many are back in the hands of fishermen.

Crabbers from all over the West Coast have mobilized to provide them with replacement equipment, lending hundreds of traps for the entire season. Locally, individuals, businesses and other groups have put together donations and other assistance to help fishing families get through the start of the season. Political leaders are also promising state and federal support in the coming months.

A cloud of black smoke rises above a large building fire on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in southwest Washington state.

A seafood facility in Ilwaco, Washington caught fire on Monday, January 22, 2024. No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire is still unknown.

Courtesy of Kathy Hudkins

U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat who represents southwest Washington, visited community leaders, the Port of Ilwaco and fishermen late last week to discuss resources available to reconstruction and support that may be needed at higher levels of government.

The congresswoman told KMUN the way the community has come together is inspiring.

“I mean, if the government worked half as well as this community, coming together, we would be in a much different world,” she said.

Gluesenkamp Perez said she would look at different types of proactive support around disaster grants and government-backed small business loans.

“I would say you often find that the people who end up getting these grants and loans are the ones who have the administrative capacity,” she said. “It’s not the owner-operator, it’s not the independent – ​​and that’s wrong. »

Gluesenkamp Perez owns an auto repair shop in Portland and said she knew there was a high hurdle.

“I’m really committed to leveling the playing field and seeing this community thrive and continue to thrive as a fishing community,” she said.

Alongside Gluesenkamp Perez was Sen. Jeff Wilson, a Republican who represents Washington’s 19th Legislative District, which includes Ilwaco. His office works at the state level to make sure anglers have what they need to get on the water.

He told KMUN that credit is due to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which acted quickly to ensure fishermen had the necessary identification tags for each new crab trap.

But Wilson said there is work to be done to ensure Bornstein can rebuild — not in two years, but in the year to come.

In Oregon, state Rep. Cyrus Javadi and Sen. Suzanne Weber said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife assured them that the 1,320 Oregon tags affected by the fire would be reissued in time for the season, at no additional cost.

“The fishing and crabbing industry is the backbone of the Northern Oregon Coast. Our local economy depends on their ability to import the highest quality seafood to feed Oregonians and the nation,” Weber, a Tillamook Republican, said in a statement.

Javadi, also a Tillamook Republican, thanked the Department of Fish and Wildlife “for moving quickly to give our crabbers much-needed regulatory flexibility during this difficult time.”

Firefighters completed their investigation into the cause of the fire on Saturday, but have not publicly announced their findings. A definitive cost estimate has not been made, but the fire resulted in a total loss. Drone footage of the site shows blackened crab pots on a skeleton dock and debris where buildings once stood.

Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives write the final origin and cause report. Once the report is completed, the findings will be forwarded to the Ilwaco Fire Department.

This story is part of a collaboration between KMUN and The Astorian.

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