ILWACO — Forklifts passed with a stacks fish totes followed by a semi-trailer loaded with a water tank.

Over the weekend, the Safe Coast Seafoods facility in Ilwaco was a swarm of activity as the area’s newest seafood processing plant prepares to open for the start of the Washington commercial Dungeness crab season.

“We’re getting ready for the upcoming [crab] season,” said Safe Coast Seafoods general manager Shannon Schafer as she observed the progress on Friday, Jan. 22. “We’re really excited to get it going again.”

Work begins

The overall task of getting an aging Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish structure that has sat idle for several months in working order hasn’t been too tall.

“We kind of knew what we were in for when we started,” Schafer said.

Dock supervisor Angel Wirkkala pressure-washed moss from the east side of the building while two workers removed clumps of sod from the gutters and repaired holes in the roof.

“There’s a couple leaks they’re repairing. In the summer we’re going to do a more comprehensive roof repair,” Schafer said.

Safe Coast Seafoods plant manager Tim Erwin assisted crew from Tribeca Transport remove and replace a rusted tanker, part of a old water treatment system.

New energy-efficient LED lighting has already been installed inside. The production layout will remain similar to the past, Schafer said, with a dedicated section for processing Dungeness crab.

After filing receivership last year, Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. was purchased by Pucci Foods, who set up Safe Coast Seafoods to acquire the assets through a bidding process through a court-appointed receiver.

Once open, Safe Coast Seafoods will be seeking to purchase crab, black cod, shrimp, sardines, oysters, razor clams, salmon, tuna, Pacific whiting, hake, halibut and other species.

Waiting

Like everyone in the local crab industry, Safe Coast is toughing out a long delay in the season’s start after Jan. 8 test results of up to 76 parts per million in the guts of crab harvested off Long Beach. Federal rules preclude harvest when tests show more than 30 ppm.

This means a continuing closure for the entire coast from Cape Falcon, Oregon north to the U.S./Canada border.

“[W]e now anticipate the delay of the Washington fishery to continue into February and perhaps as late as Feb. 15,” the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

WDFW is also looking into convincing the Washington Legislature to allow sale of crab from which the guts/viscera/butter has been removed. Opening with such an evisceration requirement would have to be accompanied by sufficient regulations to ensure public safety, the agency stressed.

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