On January 10, 1914, the Port of Seattle commissioned Fishermen’s Terminal as its first operating asset. Since then, the prominent West Coast commercial fishing facility has been providing, and constantly improving on, much-needed amenities that service the North Pacific Fishing Fleet’s eclectic mix of commercial vessels.
The Port boasts the only fresh water moorage that is neither impacted by tidal zones or corrosive agents. And the temperate climate doesn’t hurt. Situated in Salmon Bay on the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Fishermen’s Terminal resides on approximately 75 acres. The Maritime Industrial Center, about a mile west of the Terminal, sits on six acres and provides commercial moorage to the fleet’s larger-size vessels.
“We can handle 240-foot processing ships all the way down to 30-foot Puget Sound gillnet boats,” says Kenneth R. Lyles, Sr. Manager, Fishing & Commercial Vessels, Lyles has been working for the Port of Seattle for 29 years, the past 12 managing commercial operations at Fishermen’s Terminal. “The majority of the fleet are salmon seiners that fish in Southeast Alaska and Bristol Bay. We also have freezer longliner vessels, the historic “Highliner” longline fleet, catcher-processors and crab boats.”
The Port can accommodate up to 500 commercial fishing vessels at any one time. It has a 200-slip facility in addition to several concrete loading docks – 2,800 linear feet at Fishermen’s Terminal and approximately 830 linear feet at the Marine Industrial Center – for loading and repair work. There is also plenty of room for reefer trucks, fiber, pallets, gear or equipment that needs to be staged and a number of forklifts, hydraulic cranes and hoists.
“We’re a full-service facility,” says Lyles. “We also provide garbage service and recycling service for fiber and metal as well as used oil and have pump-out facilities for bilge and sewage. Additionally, we have a very robust environmental compliance program that we employ here as well.”
Moorage fees are very competitive, adds Lyles. “We’ve worked over the past 12 years to bring them to market,” he says. “We’re five percent less than our competitors because we are committed to being the home port of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet.”
While a lot of seasonal vessel refurbishing takes place at dock like painting, electrical and hydraulic work, an onsite boatyard and shipyard, as well as additional haul-out facilities across the canal at the historic Pacific Fishermen’s Shipyard are also available. “We have a complete infrastructure here in Seattle where the service providers are based,” explains Lyles. “Specialists from electrical to refrigeration to hydraulic and different outfitters are here, unlike what you’ll find anywhere else on the West Coast or in Alaska. Fishermen also swap out gear as we have a percentage of our fleet that participate in multiple fisheries.”
Over the last 15 years, the Port has invested more than 60 million in infrastructure improvements, which have included electrical upgrades, water and sewer line replacement, the redevelopment of the west and south seawalls as well as the redevelopment of docks 5 through 10. Wooden docks 3 and 4 were also redeveloped after the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.
An ambitious 25-year plan is now under review for future developments. Lyles reports there are some proposals that have yet to be completely reviewed and adopted by the five elected port commissioners. To date some initial legwork has been accomplished in regard to looking at opportunities in the retail core and additional support facilities for the fishing fleet. The uplands area, which includes offices and a retail core, has not seen redevelopment since 1988 but the Port is considering creating additional facilities such as more covered work areas and mixed-use facilities, including retail.
A recent economic impact study conducted by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute identified the commercial maritime and fishing vessel industry as having contributed 30 billion dollars to the area’s local economy, and that five billion is directly related to the fleets that tie up at Fishermen’s Terminal and the Port’s Terminal 91. West Coast fishermen also supply half the fish consumed in the United States.
One of the results of the study has prompted a recapitalization of the large boat fleet. Federal legislation has opened up the ability for the big catcher-processors, crab boats and freezer longliners to turn their fleets over after over 46 years. New vessels are now entering the market as old vessels are being retired out of it, which has provided an economic boon to area communities invested in shipbuilding.
“It’s really seen a resurgence in the eyes of our community leaders,” adds Lyles. “For years the industry has been taken for granted, but with this economic impact study, it has been put on par with Microsoft and Amazon, major industries here in the State of Washington.”
While local, state and federal officials have recognized the impact, Lyles says they’re working to bring visibility to the industry to protect the industry and to promote the careers that provide the labor to keep these industries in operation.
“They’ve recognized there is a greying of the workforce,” he says. “The average commercial fishing employee is 50+ years old and is looking at retirement over the next 10 years. A lot of work is being done to replenish that workforce, and the Port of Seattle is working to help facilitate that effort to ensure that the industry is ready for the next 100 years.”