Massive Fire Hits Ilwaco, Wash. Seafood Processing Facility

The Ilwaco Landing fire. Photo via Ilwaco Tuna Club/GoFundMe.

A fire that began Jan 22 at Washington’s Ilwaco Landing seafood processing facility, a hub for Dungeness crab harvests, is under investigation.

Meanwhile, the loss leaves Safe Coast Seafoods as the lone fish-receiving facility in Ilwaco, a small town near the Oregon border.

The devastation from the massive fire leaves a lot on the line for the Dungeness crab fishery, which according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was worth some $64.6 million in 2022. Still, the Seattle Times reported, even as smoke rose from remnants of the fire, the community was coming together to help.

Fire officials said in a news release that due to the remote location, limited water supply, among other factors, hampered effort to fight the blaze.

“The situation was further complicated by the presence of an estimated 8,500 crab pots on the dock surrounding the building,” they said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., noted in a social media post that the waterfront is the heart of Ilwaco and its local economy.

“My prayers are with the entire community, including the cannery workers and fishing families who rely on the docks for their livelihoods,” she wrote.

In 2023, some 3.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab were processed there. Now, some of the boats that normally deliver their crab to Ilwaco will have to deliver in Astoria, Ore. or Westport, Wash., adding travel time and expense to their typical route.

Zeke Estrella of the f/v Sunset Charge was among those hit hard, losing nearly 600 pots in the blaze.

“It was odd watching everything you do go up in flames,” he told the Seattle Times.

Donations of money and gear have poured into Ilwaco from seafood harvesters up and down the West Coast. A GoFundMe that was set up to help Dungeness crab harvesters obtain new gear looked to raise $150,000.

The fundraiser, which was organized by the Ilwaco Tuna Club, closed the GoFundMe portion of the fundraiser in mid-February; as of press time, an account at Bank of the Pacific set up to receive donations was expected to remain open until the end of February.

More than 6,000 crab pots had been staged on the wharf to be loaded onto boats this week for the upcoming commercial crab season, according to the Tuna Club. All proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward helping buy new fishing gear and to support the families affected by fire, the club said.

Crab fishermen who suffered losses were also aided by support from the Newport Fishermen’s Wives and WEfish organizations, both based in Westport, Wash. Each group worked to collect volunteers to aid the affected fishermen.

Additionally, as a result of the fire, a nonprofit organization made up of women on the river to promote the industry, support the community and respond to future emergencies has been formed and named the FishHer Columbia Pacific CommUNITY Alliance, according to Amy Sharp, a fisherman on the
f/v Spring Persuader.

The Spring Persuader is homeported in Warrenton, Ore., across the Columbia River from Ilwaco.