Fishermen say pull anchor on pleasure boats

Several fishermen, many of whom represented groups, showed up at a public hearing on Dec. 6 to tell Port of Seattle commissioners that the terminal should hold true to the purpose for which it was created: to support the North Pacific fishing fleet.
At issue is a proposal to allow recreational boats to moor at Fishermen's Terminal, used as a base of operations for almost 400 fishing boats, many of which fish in Alaskan waters. The commissioners were scheduled to vote on the measure during their Dec. 11 meeting, held after the News' press deadline.
Port staff and the Harbor Development Strategy 21 Committee, a volunteer community advisory group, have recommended that pleasure boats be permitted to lease space at the terminal to create revenue needed to repair the aging facility, which opened in 1913.
Money to make the repairs is in short supply because a declining fishing fleet has left too many vacancies at the terminal, according to port officials.
Fishermen's Terminal Manager Jim Serrill said the vacancy rate has been running at 25 to 40 percent since 1995, with about 30 percent of the slips currently empty. While the facility broke even last year, it lost money for the previous six years.
The majority of the speakers at the hearing wanted nothing to do with the port's proposal to raise money by allowing pleasure boats into the terminal.
"We will fight you on the zoning level. We will fight you in the mayor's office. We will fight you in the city council," said Peter Knutson of the Puget Sound Gillnetters Association.
The deterioration of the terminal, which is so serious that at least one dock is partially unusable, angered the fishermen.
Knutson and others noted that a broken crane, damaged in the Feb. 28 earthquake, still has not been fixed, requiring the fishermen to unload their cargo by hand.
Allowing Fishermen's Terminal to fall into disrepair, some fishermen said, was a strategy to place the property in a position to be sold to developers.
Port Commission Chairman Clare Nordquist insisted no such plans exist.
"There will be no condos. There is no plan for condos," he said.
Fisherman Bret Barnecut said if the port really had no intention of developing the property, it would seek a historic designation for Fishermen's Terminal.
The port has poured $9 million into recent repairs at the terminal, including $2 million in structural upgrades to the West Wall. More renovations are planned, according to Serrill, who said the crane repairs were delayed by permitting requirements and should be completed within a month.
The fishermen and other speakers at the hearing contended that recreational vessels and fishing boats are incompatible. Fishermen's Terminal, they said, is a noisy, smelly working facility, where nets are spread out on the docks and fishermen may rise at 5 a.m. to do repairs, such as welding, on their vessels.
A few of the speakers conceded that, if pleasure boats must be allowed, rules should be set up to avoid conflicts with fishing vessels.
The port commissioners stressed that commercial fishing vessels would always take first priority.
Serrill said any lease agreement for pleasure boats would include a strictly enforceable clause that states the lease could be terminated with 30 days notice if a fishing vessel requires a slip and none are vacant.
"We'll find someplace else for that (recreational) boat to allow a fishing boat to come in," Serrill said.
Curt Firestone, who owns a pleasure boat, told commissioners that recreational vessel owners would not be interested in moorage under those conditions.
"I think you're kidding yourselves," Firestone said.
Fisherman Joel Kawahara said the moorage change was shortsighted because fish stocks, salmon in particular, are on the rise.
Steve Hughes, a fisheries biologist and president of Natural Resources Consultants, was not so sanguine. He outlined the shrinkage of the local fishing fleet, including a drop from around 1,500 gillnetters in 1980 to 290 today.
"The trend is for more of these reductions," Hughes said.
He said that while the wild salmon population is growing, the "huge increase in farmed salmon over the last few years" is driving down the price of the undomesticated fish.
Some speakers suggested income could be generated by an improvement once promised by the port - an onsite fish market to sell directly to the public. Also proposed were moving the city's maritime museum and the Ballard Farmer's Market to the terminal.
A number of the speakers did not think bringing tourism to a working facility was a good idea.
Some fishermen asked why the terminal was expected to pay its own way when other port facilities are not. Barnecut mentioned the port's funding of its cruise-ship terminal, which only earns $29 million compared to the more than $400 million Fishermen's Terminal brings in each year.
The fishermen also noted the $71 million cost of the new Hanjin Shipping Co. terminal, which port officials contend will eventually pay for itself.
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