Washington fishermen, communities rally behind crabbers impacted by Ilwaco fire

Fire at the Port of Ilwaco in southwest Washington state.

Local coastal communities have rallied behind fishermen who lost 3,700 crab pots in a massive fire in Ilwaco, Washington, U.S.A., on 22 January, just days before the start of the Dungeness crab season. 

Crabbers up and down the West Coast scrambled to find replacement gear for the fishermen and gathered monetary donations to ensure the affected fishermen made it out for the beginning of the season. 

U.S. Representative Marie Glusenkamp Perez, (D-Washington), who represents southwest Washington, visited the Port of Ilwaco in early February to show her support.

“If the government worked half as well as this community does, coming together, we’d be in a much different world,” Perez told The Astorian

Many West Coast fishermen loaned pots for the season to those who lost them in the fire. Dungeness pots can cost upward of USD 400 (EUR 371) new; at that price, it would have cost over USD 1.4 million (EUR 1.3 million) to replace the traps lost in the fire.

Amy Sharp, a fisherman on the F/V Spring Persuader, whose homeport in Warrenton, Oregon, sits across the Columbia River from Ilwaco, helped lead the aid effort.

“It was really disheartening to see what happened to the landing and the gear, but everyone was ready to help," Sharp told National Fisherman. "Some fishermen flooded in from as far north as Bellingham, Washington, and as far south as California to assist in any way that they could.”

Sharp soon spoke with Mike Shirley, the manager of Bornstein Seafoods, who was working to collect crab pots for fishermen who lost gear in the fire.

“Mike asked if I would be responsible for ensuring all the volunteers were fed," Sharp said. "I got in the car immediately to get that process started.”

The Newport Fishermen’s Wives and WEfish, both based in Westport, Washington, both worked to collect volunteers to help feed the fishermen collecting pots and other gear.

“As a result of the fire, we are creating a nonprofit organization of us women on the river to promote our industry, be there for the community, and respond to future emergencies," Sharp said. "We are calling it FishHer Columbia Pacific CommUNITY Alliance.”

With the waterfront being essential to Ilwaco and the local economy, those who have come together to support fishing families have shown what the community is all about, Sharp said. 

“It’s not just about one fishery or another, especially in a tragedy like this. It was about getting it all together for the crabbers who must dump gear in a matter of days. There's a time and season for everything, and it wasn't time to mourn the loss of the landing because it was crab season,” Sharp said. “It was all about how we could support these fishermen to get out and fish this season to support their families.”

WTA, the Columbia River Crab Fishermen’s Association, and many others supported Sharp ended up collecting enough pots to replace all 3,700 that were lost by the start of the season.

“It all came through as this whole 'Ilwaco Strong' effort. We are a giant family; we pull together for one another – no matter the fishery.” Sharp said.

Reporting by Carli Stewart 

Photo courtesy of Pacific County Emergency Management Agency


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