By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
The big cash payoffs pocketed by local trawl boat owners in the federal buyout program are no comfort to the crewmen and harbor businesses reliant on those boats for income.
Also complaining about the buyout are Crescent City's commercial boat owners who were not eligible for the payoff and must now shoulder extra costs stemming from the federal program.
Nearly all of Crescent City's trawl fleet was purchased this week by the National Marine Fisheries Services as part of a coastwide effort to reduce the harvest of depleted rockfish and cod populations.
Each owner of the 14 local boats got an average of $497,000 in exchange for their permits to catch bottom fish, crab and shrimp and the rights to use their boats for any type of fishing anywhere in the world.
Each of those boat owners employed about four crewmen who won't get paid this winter.
Those vessels also kept several supply businesses going in the harbor.
"Of course it's going to affect us. Between here and Brookings, we lost 21 accounts," said Chris Heggnes, manager of Englund Marine supply store in Crescent City Harbor.
Heggnes said his store equipped the huge trawl boats with nearly everything boats require to operate including paint, nets, and raingear.
Englund Marine will keep its doors open, despite the loss of business, however, according to Heggnes.
"We'll still be here, we saw it coming and we diversified into sports fishing. And we still have lots of crab boats operating here," he said.
But 40 or so crewmen employed by the purchased vessels may not stay in Crescent City Harbor when the boats shut down on Dec. 4.
Most of the affected crewmen have worked for free since Oct. 1 preparing the boats and thousands of crab pots for the season.
The work assures them a spot on their boat of hire and a certain percentage of the boat's crab sale profits at the end of the two- or three-month season that begins in December.
For crew member Gilberto Gil and many others, the time spent since Oct. 1 has been wasted because of the buyout.
"We just found out about this last week. They (the boat owners) never really talked to us to tell us what was going on. We could probably get on with the smaller crab boats, but usually the boats have their crew hired by October. Now it's November and it's too late," said Gil, who has worked as a crew member on the F.V. Miss Joanne for the past several years.
Typically, crew members make most of their yearly income from the crab season profits. This season, the crew will have to scramble for other work.
Gil said he will try to get work as a painter in the construction business after he and the Miss Joanne return from a short trip to crab fish in the San Francisco area.
Crab boat owner Richard Axelson said he too will be negatively affected by the buyout.
His 58-foot vessel F.V. Lady Renee is not used for catching groundfish, so he wasn't eligible for the buyout program.
But the buyout program is funded by a federal loan that must be paid back by the remaining fishing fleet.
According to Axelson and trawl boat owner Richard Young, each time a fishermen sells his catch, about 1.3 percent of the earnings must be paid back to the federal government to pay off the loan.
"It's kind of aggravating because the ones who got bought out will be back with newer, better boats. We're not going to catch anymore crab than we did before, yet we have to pay for the other guys to be bought out. I don't blame them for doing it, but it just hurts because we have to pay for it," Axelson said.
Less affected by the depleted fishing fleet is the harbor-based business Fashion Blacksmith.
As one of the harbor's largest businesses, the large industrial repair shop will see a decline of local customers, but won't suffer heavy losses because of it.
"I'm sure we're going to feel it a little bit, but the bulk of our business comes from the Alaskan king crabbers, and Southern California has been keeping us busy," said Ted Long, co-owner of Fashion Blacksmith.
At least one company in the harbor will benefit from the out-of-commission vessels.
Crab buyer and processor Carvalho Fisheries is expected to make bigger profits this year because of the buyout, according to owner Bill Carvalho.
The 14 boats that won't be fishing for groundfish or crab this winter were all clients of Pacific Choice Seafood, Carvalho's main competitor.
"Pacific Choice lost a majority of its fleet on the North Coast. Since they weren't our boats, I should have more crabs crawling into our guys traps. So the buyout was good for me," Carvalho said.