Guest Opinion from 9.30.08 issue
By Pete Nichols
The most recent blow to the Humboldt Bay fishing industry – the closure of the dilapidated Eureka Ice Company owned by Hunter Enterprises – is yet another reason to question the powers charged with implementing the future vision for Humboldt Bay.
In 2005, Humboldt County Environmental Health informed Eureka Ice of issues related to the safety of the operation, stating that failure to address these problems would pose a significant risk to public health and the environment. No action was taken at that time by Eureka Ice to remedy these serious issues. In January of this year, the county laid out a plan for Eureka Ice to come into compliance and to avoid, as noted by an EPA official, “…a threat to the surrounding community” from the release of anhydrous ammonia gas into the Old Town area. The response from Eureka Ice was a 5-year plan that failed to address any of the issues raised by the county or the EPA.
Now, due to the blatant negligence of Hunter Enterprises, led by Dennis Hunter – President of the Humboldt Bay Harbor District – the community, and the fishing community in particular, are left to fend for themselves for cold storage and a steady supply of ice to support their already economically-challenged fishery. How could a representative of the governing body charged with maintaining the health and viability of the commercial fishery here around Humboldt Bay be SO negligent in managing the most basic of his duties and responsibilities as a business owner, employer and public official?
Worse yet, with crab season on the horizon, Mr. Hunter has offered no solution to the problem. One would think that he would be working day and night to ensure, and fund, a contingency plan to be enacted until a more permanent solution is put in place. To date, we have heard nothing beyond that another former Hunter Enterprises decrepit fishing vessel has sunk at the dock, spilling diesel and its associated toxic stew into Humboldt Bay, and that Hunter Enterprises has dodged the massive fines that could/should have been his fate.
So, once again, the onus falls upon the fishermen to seek a solution. Many local fishing representatives have approached the City of Eureka to act as the savior for this impending crisis. While the city may be well intentioned, I believe that their efforts will fall short of meeting the needs of the fishing community over the long-term. It is time for the fishing community (the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association in particular) to follow the lead of many of their colleagues throughout the Pacific Northwest to pursue operating and maintaining a cold storage facility – for the fishing industry, by the fishing industry.
There are many successful examples of cooperative cold storage and ice facilities from Seattle to Sitka, and there is no reason why our local fishing leaders should not take this opportunity to free themselves from the reliance on third parties to support and market their product. Creating and maintaining their own facilities will empower the fishing industry, create a sense of ownership and pride surrounding their product, and produce some of those ever-illusive jobs that the Harbor District keeps promising to deliver.
In many a crisis lays opportunity, and I believe this is one opportunity that the fishing community should seize upon. There are existing models to bring cooperative cold storage to ailing fishing communities. Most of these ventures are not so fortunate as to have institutions in place that could provide financial support to 1) provide immediate relief for the current crisis, and 2) secure funds to implement the long-term vision of a modern, fishermen-run community cold storage facility.
The Headwaters Fund was designed, and is uniquely situated, to accomplish both of these tasks. In the wake of funding the boondoggle of the Redwood Marine Terminal feasibility study and business plan, one would think that they would see the development of a cooperative cold storage facility as both a refreshing and realistic opportunity to fulfill the Headwaters Fund’s mission.
The Humboldt Bay community is best served by maintaining and supporting a strong fishing fleet. Not only is it our heritage, but it is one of the best suited industries for this region. Commercial fishermen are famously independent and self-reliant, and once again it has fallen to them to control their own fate. This may be a blessing in disguise, since the last place their fate should lay is in the hands of the Humboldt Bay Harbor District.
(Pete Nichols is the Executive Director of Humboldt Baykeeper and Pacific Northwest Representative to the Board of Directors of the International Waterkeeper Alliance.)