Local News

Crabbers rebound from Ilwaco fire

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 gear, but was able to provide some to fishermen who had. Photo by Katie Frankowicz/KMUN

ILWACO, Wash. — On Monday, commercial crabbers in Oregon and Washington state started dropping baited circular steel crab pots into the ocean.

On Thursday, they will start hauling them back up — hopefully full of Dungeness crab.

It’s a critical and fast-paced time. The bulk of the crab caught in the lucrative fishery is typically landed in the early weeks of the season.

On the water this week are fishermen who saw hundreds of their crab pots burn up in a fire at a seafood landing facility in Ilwaco, Washington, a week before the fishery was set to open.

An estimated 4,000 pots were lost in the Jan. 22 fire at the Bornstein Seafoods facility. Now, almost as many are back in the fishermen’s hands.

Crabbers up and down the West Coast rallied to get them replacement gear, loaning hundreds of pots for the entire season. Locally, people, businesses and other groups have set up donations and other aid to get fishing families through the start of the season.
Political leaders are also pledging state and federal support over the coming months.

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

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

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

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

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

Gluesenkamp Perez is the owner of a Portland auto repair shop and said she knows there’s a high barrier.

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

With Gluesenkamp Perez was state Sen. Jeff Wilson, a Republican who represents Washington’s 19th district, which includes Ilwaco. His office has been working at the state level to make sure fishermen have what they need to get on the water.

He told KMUN credit is due to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which moved quickly to make sure fishermen had the identification tags needed for each new crab pot.

But Wilson said there is work to be done to make sure Bornstein’s can rebuild — not in two years, but in the coming year.

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

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

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

Fire investigators wrapped up their investigation into the cause of the blaze on Saturday, but have not publicly announced their findings. A final cost estimate has not been determined, 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 with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are writing the final origin and cause report. Once the report is complete, the findings will be given to the Ilwaco Fire Department. 

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