Fish & Feathers: What live bait means to Ilwaco

<I>RON MALAST photo</I><BR>The crew of Engage had a great tuna trip earlier this month out of Ilwaco. Pictured from left to right are fishermen Gary Pritchard of Longview, Capt. Steve Wilcox of Longview, Bruce Marsyla of Toledo, Zander Budge of Reno, and Tom Downer of Ocean Park. The Engage is a 32-foot Cabo Express, perhaps the ultimate vessel for off-shore fishing.

The failure of the ability to provide live bait in the form of anchovies is costing the Port of Ilwaco.

This is a loss of prestige, a loss of moorage for both commercial and recreational boats, a loss of occupancy at motels on the Peninsula, a loss of fuel revenue at the fuel dock and loss of revenue for all businesses leasing Port of Ilwaco land. The Port of Ilwaco is the largest and most prominent harbor on the Lower Columbia River, yet its inability to work out a solution to provide "live bait" is a boon to Westport offshore charter boats. This has gone on for two years now - excuses, excuses, excuses, with no end in sight.

For the past two years, the Port of Ilwaco has been dependent on its biggest rival, Westport, for fresh bait. The charter offices and retail bait stands call their orders in by 2 p.m. and the bait is delivered to the merchants in Ilwaco between 6-7p.m. in the evening. Then the charter houses have to pack the bait in coolers with ice for the following days fishing trips, a time consuming job that extends an already long day. If we had our own bait pens in Ilwaco, the boats could go by the bait pens in the morning and pick up their own bait for much of the year.

The biggest growing fishery is albacore fishing and while these fish can and are caught by other means, purest tuna fishermen only want to fish "live bait." With live bait, a fisherman is able to throw the bait and hold large schools of tuna on the surface of the water and catch them on light tackle. Having fished all over the world, I can tell you that there is no more exciting type of fishing.

Yes, you can throw "fish traps" (a form of plastic lure) and catch plenty of tuna but the magic word for fishermen is live bait. After having announced in June that we were going to have live bait by July 1, tuna bookings soared, when word got out that it was not available, the bookings crumbled and cancellations became the order of the day. At $2,500 a day for a tuna booking, losses for the charter industry have been substantial.

Last week was the Oregon Tuna fishing tournament with 60 boats competing, and starting out of Hammond was looking for live bait, the director of the tournament called the Port of Ilwaco to check on the availability of live bait, and was told that there was none. Do you know was 60 boats coming over to pick up bait, groceries and topping off their tanks would mean lots of money for Ilwaco.

In all honestly, Lance Barnett of Ilwaco Landing has been doing his best to make it happen. He has invested money in a "live bait pen," for holding the fish, another $6,000 for a net to catch the fish but has had little success in finding a successful fishermen.

My critique on this is that Port Manager Jim Neva has shown little imagination or initiative in solving the problem. Has he called the president of the Commercial Fishermen's Association and made inquiries for interested parties? I doubt it. Has he applied for a state or federal grant for the port to resolve this issue? I don't think so.

The city council of Ilwaco needs to get involved, the councilmen need to take an interest in this issue to protect the interests of Ilwaco. I can just hear the charter boathouses of Westport laughing at us for being so inept in the ability to find a solution.

Ron Malast is skipper of the charter boat Big Dipper operating out of Sea Sport Fishing Charters in Ilwaco 1-866-211-6611.

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