The Shelter Cove Fishing Community Met with the Harbor District to Learn of Fee Increases, a New Marina Building, and More

Photo of the Harbor District’s display taken by Kelley Lincoln

The Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District (Harbor District) met in Shelter Cove Friday evening.  For Commissioner, fish biologist, and fishing enthusiast Pat Higgins, the big news was the nearly 50-pound halibut he caught earlier that day.

The standing room only audience in the Resort Improvement District (RID) meeting room, came out to learn about the Harbor District’s plans for managing Shelter Cove’s harbor.

The Harbor District has operated the Shelter Cove boat launch service for a year now.  In fact, the Harbor District now controls the launch, the ramp, almost all the beach below the ramp, the boat storage area, and the parking, as well as the fish cleaning station.  The Harbor District does not have oversight of the restaurant, the rentals or the motel on the point.

Jack Crider is the Harbor District’s Executive Director.  Crider says, for the Harbor District, the year has been a success. Before taking over management, Crider said Shelter Cove Harbor cost the Harbor District $25,000 a year, though he did not elaborate on that statement.  This last year, according to Crider, the loss was only $3,000 in a $116,000 budget.  Although he added, the Harbor District also contributed about $42,000 in capital investments including tractor equipment. When amortized over the depreciation period, this capital investment adds another $3000 a year in loss, nonetheless, Crider spoke in very happy terms about the venture.

New Marina Building

The Harbor District showed plans to the community for a Marina Building to be built in three phases beginning this year. The new marina building will run along the northern property line behind the public bathrooms about where the charter boats are currently stored.  The charter boat captains were promised a new spot with good visibility to the public.

Demolition of the old marina building is nearly complete but is stalled by the asbestos permit process.  Crider expects all the rubble to be gone by the end of summer.  That area will be used for parking and soon the big Cyprus tree will be taken down as part of that process.

The first phase of the new marina building is funded but awaits permitting.  An archeology team is coming soon to assess the site and then permits should be able to move forward.  When permits are secured, the first phase of construction will be an above grade concrete slab on which to house ice and refrigeration with enough capacity to accommodate the five boat commercial fishing fleet as well as charter and private recreational fishermen. The first phase will also see the fish carcasses from the cleaning station being fully ground and frozen for transport to bait and pet food processors.  The Harbor District timeline shows this being underway by year’s end.  Next year, in phase 2, tractor sheds will be added to the marina building.

During the course of the tractor barn conversation, the Harbor Commission made clear it plans to own three tractors for the Shelter Cove Boat Launch, so two tractors are always fully operational.  Lessons were learned this Memorial Day weekend when salmon season ended on Memorial Day weekend with spectacular weather.  Only one tractor team was working, with no backup equipment available.  Two dozen boats were at sea, when the tractor had mechanical issues.  All is well that ends well, but there were hours-long wait times and considerable stress as a result.  The Harbor District plans to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

And in the third phase of the Shelter Cove Marina building, the Harbor District plans for a fish buying station with the potential of a retail fish market on site.  Phase 3 is also when the current fish cleaning station will be relocated to the marina building. Afterward, the current fish cleaning station will be disconnected from the sea and decommissioned.

The new fish cleaning station will be connected to Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District (RID) water and sewer services.  The Harbor District has worked with RID staff during the plan development and believes the plans have included necessary precautions and inspection portals to safeguard RID wastewater treatment infrastructure. The Harbor District took pains to say everyone will still have access to clean their own fish in the new station.

Fees

Fee increases for Shelter Cove operations were proposed and most were approved at Friday’s meeting.  Boat storage fees will increase by $10 and will now be $50 a month.  Charter boat launching fees doubled and are now $70 per launch.  Both charter captains were present.  The Captains said if they have consistent service every day, and have priority when multiple boats are waiting to come out of the water, they are comfortable with the increase.

Commercial “mosquito fleet” launches were proposed to also double, but that increase was not approved.  Jack Crider said that Shelter Cove fish landings as reported by CA Department of Fish and Wildlife suggest the $0.15 per pound landing fees for commercial vessels should have totaled around $15,000 a year, but that the Harbor District only collected $900 in landing fees for the year.  Fishermen contended Shelter Cove is written as the landing place for a much larger geographic area than the township itself.  The matter is not as simple as usual because there is no commercial buyer for fish in Shelter Cove.  In other ports, the buyer’s invoice is used to charge the landing fees. There are no companies buying fish in Shelter Cove so the Harbor District has been relying on self-reports by fishermen.

One mosquito fleet captain explained that at the current fee of $35 a launch, he contributed about $800 to $900 a month to the Harbor District.  Commercial fishermen make many trips out that do not result in a payload.  Fishermen successfully argued that if the Harbor District wants to encourage younger captains to join the fleet, the District must look at support services such as ice vendors and fish buyers for increased revenues and not to the already financially endangered commercial fishermen.  After a lengthy discussion, the mosquito fleet launch fee was left unchanged until ice services and, hopefully, a fish buyer are in place. The charter boat captains agreed the fee disparity was fair because they earn income on every trip out.

Commercial boat Captains who self-launch will now pay $10 per launch.

Public Parking below the Ramp

The Harbor District asked the audience for their feedback about the public being allowed to park at the bottom of the ramp. Consensus appeared to be that an adequate lane from the ramp to the shore needs to be maintained for efficient and safe launch operations, but that the public wants to park below the ramp and should not be fully prohibited.  The Harbor District asks the public to please respect the fishermen, and their own safety, and refrain from parking in the lane needed by the launch operators.  Another point of consensus seemed to be that the trucks and trailers of self-launched vessels need to be parked at the top of the ramp, not below.

No New Oyster Beds

In other District news, the Commissioners publicly expressed disappointment that the application for Coast Seafood Company’s oyster bed expansion was denied on Wednesday in Arcata by the California Coastal Commission.  In a separate application, the Harbor District seeks to be pre-permitted to lease inter-tidal marshlands to mariculture businesses, allowing smaller operators to also have opportunities in the Humboldt Bay, so the Harbor District Commissioners felt a setback from the Coast Seafood application being denied.

Kelp bed management science is at the heart of this controversy.  The District feels oyster operators today protect rather than harm overall water quality which protects the endangered kelp beds overall.  The Coastal Commission voted against the application 6-5.

Humboldt Bay Dredging

The Harbor District’s Commissioners take some pride in thinking outside of conventional wisdom.  At Friday’s meeting in Shelter Cover, Commissioners reminisced about the decision to take on the old pulp mill against all legal advice due to potential liability.  The Harbor District is very proud to have played a role in averting a huge environmental catastrophe by taking responsibility for the pulp mill site and getting it cleaned up.

And, as with the fight with the Coastal Commission last week, the Harbor District is also at odds with the federal EPA over the District’s preferred plan to deposit the dredged material from Humboldt Bay onto the shores of the peninsula.  In a very public showdown, this on-shore disposal option has been denied by the EPA. In the meantime, the marinas in Humboldt Bay are nearly unusable because of un-dredged sediment.  At this time, the Harbor District will use a clamshell dredge in the open lanes of the Humboldt Bay and its marinas. The Harbor District will pay to transport most of the dredge spoils out to an offshore site known as Hoods.  About a third of the spoils can be legally accommodated onshore at the old pulp mill’s sediment cells north of the Samoa Cookhouse. The diminished speed and efficiency of the clamshell dredge coupled with the greatly increased cost of barge services to Hoods frustrates the district because they say the sample testing of the spoils reveals no environmental hazards and Humboldt Bay’s marinas are in distress due to sediment load.

Solar Power

The Harbor District will lease its mill site roof to a solar energy producer.  The contract is for the District to receive $350,000 upfront for a 25-year lease for the first phase of the project.

Eel River Sediment

Prevailing ocean currents carry sediment from Eel River north and into Humboldt Bay for the District to then dredge out.  It appears Eel River sediment load is increasing and the Harbor District voted to accept a $200,000 grant from the California Natural Resources Agency and work with the Army Corp of Engineers to develop a Regional Sediment Management Plan. Commissioner Pat Higgins hypothesized that increased rural development in the Eel River Watershed plays a role in the increased sediment load.

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