Fire sweeps Washington dock at brink of Dungeness crab season

The Ilwaco facility on fire.

A fire raced across the Ilwaco Landing dock at the mouth of the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington on 22 January, blanketing the area in smoke and reportedly destroying crab traps staged for the opening of the Dungeness crab season on 1 February.

Local news media reported the fire erupted around 11 a.m. and spread rapidly, drawing a widespread emergency response and advice from authorities for residents to stay indoors and avoid hazardous smoke from the fire.

Firefighters continued working into the evening of 22 January to confine the blaze at the dock and processing plant, owned by Bellingham, Washington, U.S.A.-based Starlight One. Damage reports were incomplete, but in a posting on Facebook, the Newport Fishermen’s Wives group warned consequences could be dire.

“Today Oregon’s North Coast fleet has taken huge hit!" the post stated. "A large fish plant in Ilwaco had a tragic fire that also destroyed thousands of crab gear that was staged and rigged to finally start their crab season. This is a potential disaster for some.”

In a statement, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) said the fire “has caused significant damages to the Ilwaco Landing.”

“Thank you to the brave firefighters and first responders on the scene at the Port of Ilwaco," Cantwell said. "This is devastating news for the entire community, and I am continuing to monitor the situation closely. The waterfront is the heart of Ilwaco and the local economy. My prayers are with the entire community, including the cannery workers and fishing families who rely on the docks for their livelihoods.”

Farther south, in the U.S. state of California, where the crab season has already opened, a group of fishermen based in Humboldt County ended a strike over lower prices they were receiving for their catch. The two-week strike by fishermen from Trinidad, Eureka, Fort Bragg, and Crescent City ended on 22 January, when the Dungeness crab season opened for San Francisco fishermen. Those striking were upset at getting paid USD 3.00 (EUR 2.74) per pound, while fishermen in Oregon receive USD 3.50 (EUR 3.20) per pound.

“No one is happy with the fact that the processors are still paying more in Oregon than they are in California,” Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association President Harrison Ibach told the East Bay Times.

Ibach said he was told by buyers that the price difference was due to the fact that crab caught in Oregon is typically sent to the live market while California crab is frozen. 

“That also is insulting to us as fishermen because we don’t understand why our crabs, which are really good quality, have to go to the [frozen] section market,” he said. “In the end, we feel very defeated and deflated by basically feeling as though we are forced to go on a lower price than what Oregon has achieved. And, we still don’t understand exactly why.”

Ibach said fishermen are frustrated by a lack of communication from processors.

“Fishermen need to figure out a way to make some sort of significant change because as of right now, the majority of the power [lies with] the processors, and it leads to a lot of frustration in the fishing industry,” he said.

Ibach said he was thankful, though, that the price is up from the USD 2.25 (EUR 2.07) per pound California Dungeness fishermen received last season.

Reporting by Kirk Moore and Cliff White

Photo courtesy of Pacific County Emergency Management Agency


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