Fire raced across the Ilwaco Landing dock Jan. 22, smoke covering the area like a blanket and destroying 3,700 crab pots next to the Bornstein Seafoods facility. The traps were kept on the dock days before the Dungeness crab dumping day.  

It’s critical for fishermen to get their gear in the water on time, as most crabs are caught in the season's first weeks. The community and other crabbers rallied up and down the West Coast to find replacement gear for the fishermen who lost hundreds of pots. Some groups and businesses set up donations and other assistance to the fishing families affected to ensure fishermen made it out for the season.

Rep. Marie Glusenkamp Perez, D-Wash., who represents southwest Washington in Congress visited the Port of Ilwaco last week to share what support was available to rebuild. 

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

Many West Coast fishermen loaned pots for the season to those who lost in the fire. Dungeness pots are upward of $400 new; at that price, it would’ve cost over $1.4 million to replace the total loss.

National Fisherman spoke with Amy Sharp, a fisherman on the F/V Spring Persuader, whose homeport, Warrenton, Ore., is right across the river from Ilwaco. Her significant other is the Ilwaco representative for the Washington Trollers Association (WTA). Sharp had to emergency respond on his behalf if trollers kept at the Ilwaco landing caught fire or were damaged.

“On Monday, I raced to the harbor to make sure no boats were in danger, and on Tuesday, I jumped on the phone to figure out what the damages were and how the WTA and I could help.” Sharp shared.

 “It was really disheartening to see what happened to the Landing and the gear, but everyone was ready to help. 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.”

Amy 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 Shirley, manager of Bornstein Seafoods, asked Sharp if she could help collect volunteers to help feed the crew's patching gear. Photo courtesy of Amy Sharp

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

Local news media contacted the Newport Fishermen’s Wives and WEfish out of Westport, Wash., to further collect volunteers to help feed the fishermen collecting pots and do the gear work as soon as possible. Non-profits like these come together to raise awareness of the social values of commercial fishing and to show support to the local fishermen that make up coastal communities.

“I realized we don’t have a group for the Columbia River region, and I kept hearing a lot of women commenting on that. 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. We are calling it FishHer Columbia Pacific CommUNITY Alliance.” Sharp shared.

The fire has been described as one of the most destructive industrial fires in the Pacific County’s history. With the waterfront being the heart of Ilwaco and the local economy, those who have come together to support fishing families and the cannery workers have shown what the fishing community is all about. The Ilwaco Landing was paramount to all fisheries, being the only place many fishermen offload fish each season.  

“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 shared.

“It was all about how can we 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 with the efforts needed to get the crews fed; along with supporting Mike Shirley in getting the crabbers the gear they needed.

Mike Shirley, manager of Bornstein Seafoods, found gear and fishermen from up and down the coast to help patch loaner gear the fishermen would fish this Dungeness Crab season. Photo courtesy of Amy Sharp.

The 3,700 pots were replaced and patched by volunteers so they could get in the water for dumping day.

“It all came through as this whole Ilwaco Strong effort. We are a giant family; we pull together for each other. No matter the fishery.” Sharp noted.

Amy Sharp and her son are making clam chowder to help feed the crews getting the gear ready for the crabbers. Photo courtesy of Amy Sharp.

An extended thank you to those who volunteered and donated:

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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