Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. fails to pay full bill to fishermen

Dock workers receive a load of Dungeness crab at Jessie's Ilwaco Fish Company. A number of Ilwaco fishing vessels have begun taking their catch elsewhere this week following complaints about partial payments for crab landed earlier this season for the California-owned firm.

ILWACO — Crab fishermen selling their catch to Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Company say they have been given only a portion of the money owed to them for the second year in a row — leaving some more than a $100,000 short.

Now a number of fishermen are reportedly leaving Jessie’s to sell their catch elsewhere. The reason for the stall in payment has been an issue with the line of credit coming to Jessie’s owner Don Alber, according to fishermen who had been in contact with Alber.

Alber has not responded to multiple attempts to reach him by phone. Alber runs San Francisco-based Alber Seafoods, and bought Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Company in late 2013.

Some locals faced the same issue with Jessie’s last season, when the company initially paid a fraction of what it owed fishermen before paying the full amount weeks later.

Even after the payment problems last season, Al Malchow, who has been selling to Jessie’s for six years, said he decided to sell to the company again because he assumed the backlash against the processing company last season would keep Jessie’s on time for payments.

“I honestly thought they would never do that again,” Malchow said. “They lost a few boats and people weren’t happy, I figured they would get a clue.”

Brian Cutting got a call on his boat letting him know that he wouldn’t be seeing the full amount Jessie’s owed him, said his wife, Kim. The couple received about 25 percent of the more than $100,000 the processing company owed them

Cutting is one of multiple fishermen taking their business elsewhere. The couple’s three boats — including a brand new one launched in 2015 — were scheduled to go crabbing Jan. 22, and Cutting said they would take their catch to Ilwaco Landing, a crab buyer that competes with Jessie’s.

Of the fishermen who reported they were missing money, most said the payments they received included only 25 or 30 percent of what was owed to them.

Malchow said the fishing company owes him about $127,000. As of Jan. 21, he received only $35,000 or about 27.5 percent of the total bill.

As of Jan. 22, Alber told Cutting he would receive the rest of the money Alber owed him by Jan. 27.

In a Jan. 21 interview, Malchow and other fishermen said they were told they would eventually receive the full amount they were owed, but that it will come days after it was due.

That was the same thing the owners of Jessie’s told fishermen last year. However, Malchow said in that case the money took weeks to materialize.

The delay in payment comes as a particularly hard blow after domoic acid levels delayed the crabbing season well past its normal Dec. 1 start date. The commercial crab fishing season launched more than a month after that date on Jan. 4. State health and fisheries agencies also cut short the 2015 season last spring.

“Most of us haven’t had money coming in for five months or more,” Malchow said.

Cutting echoed Malchow’s sentiments, adding that she and her husband employ 11 people, all of whom rely on the now further-delayed income.

It hit the Cuttings particularly hard as well.

“We built a new boat, and we have no savings,” Kim said.

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