ILWACO — Concern and uncertainty abound for Washington commercial crab fishermen as domoic-related delays continue, adding more pressure on local fishermen and processors.
A meeting was held Tuesday, Feb. 2 at the Safe Coast Seafoods building in Ilwaco to help answer questions and assuage concerns regarding the new seafood processor and ongoing delays that have stunted the season so far. About a dozen current and former commercial fishermen and port officials attended the meeting led by Safe Coast Seafoods president and Pucci Foods CEO Chris Lam.
“We’re hoping we can go, but it’s up to the state to approve,” Lam, 53, said at the start of the meeting.
The marine toxin domoic acid continues to stall commercial crabbing from Cape Falcon, Oregon, to the U.S.-Canada border, with no immediate resolution in sight.
Building trustBuilding trust and gaining support from local fishermen was a focal point during the roughly hour-long meeting.
Lam addressed concerns from fishermen, including those that dealt with issues of slow payment from the previous owner. Lam said payments to fishermen would occur this season “within 72 business hours.”
“It takes at least a day to get up here,” explained Lam, adding the business is headquartered in Hayward, California. Lam said they will also give fishermen an advance on fuel and bait “if they fish for us.”
Commercial fishermen Jerry Matzen III was among those in attendance. Matzen said he lost thousands due to non-payment from the former owners last season, but was optimistic about the new owner and their intentions after hearing from them directly.
“I was happy with what I heard so far,” Matzen, 34, said.
“I was glad to hear they’re wanting to do more than just crabs and want to create more jobs for people in our community,”
More product, more stability
Lam outlined plans on how the facility would be improved and operations expanded in coming years while referencing a similar transformation with other seafood processing facilities they manage in California.
“We want to have more live products,” said Lam, adding they’ve doubled the size of the current live-product system. “We need as much as we can and we want to maintain work crews year-around.”
The seafood processor will be seeking to purchase crab, black cod, shrimp, sardines, oysters, razor clams, salmon, tuna, Pacific whiting, hake, halibut and other species. The facility will eventually add more products, including surimi, a minced paste made from fish and often used to imitate crab, which Lam said would be produced in house.
The announcement was met with some concern.
“We’ve done surimi and have the scar tissue to prove it,” one attendee said.
There will be five hoists used to offload catch, however the primary loading dock will be relocated to the front to ease truck access. The current location of the retail market will eventually be moved to the front box room, which will allow more space, Lam said. The towering freezer room, formerly constructed from wood, has been gutted with new insulation panels installed. The plan is to fix up the ice room next, according to Lam.
Adding more options, including vegetarian products, is all part of the plan, Lam said.
Currently most kelp is imported but Lam would like to see it eventually become popular enough among fishermen to become an export.
“Maybe some of you will switch over to kelp for us,” Lam said. “We want to export product instead of import.”
During a short tour of the facility some remarked how much brighter the interior was and how there were no apparent leaks in the roof despite steady rain showers outside.
“Our goal is to make sure our product is safe and sustainable,” Lam said. “It’s still a work in progress but a lot of improvement has been made. Rome wasn’t built overnight.”