When Port of Los Angeles officials approved a plan in 1981 to invest millions of dollars to overhaul the dilapidated facilities at Fish Harbor on Terminal Island, commercial fishermen thought their fortunes had finally changed.
The fishermen, many of whom had complained loudly for years that the Harbor Department was indifferent to their needs, had spent nearly two years working closely with port officials to prepare the voluminous plan, tossing out several versions before the final one was agreed upon.
Now, more than four years later, there are few visible signs of change at Fish Harbor. While a marine research facility for USC has been built in the area, improvements to commercial fishing facilities have been limited to some upgrading of the piers, better electrical hookups, three pay phones and two portable toilets--the only toilets available for the 125 or so fishermen who anchor their vessels there regularly.
"I think it is kind of funny that of all the millions of dollars the Harbor Department gets in federal subsidies, and all the other millions it spends, we get a couple of outhouses," said a fishermen who would identify himself only as Larry. "I think it's a joke, really."
"I don't think the Harbor Department has really done anything to hurt Fish Harbor," said Bob Allen, a vice president at CHB Foods Inc., which operates the only remaining tuna cannery in the area. "But I don't think they have done anything to make it a positive environment either."
Port officials are now preparing an updated study on commercial fishing facilities at Fish Harbor, as well as those in San Pedro at the municipal fish markets and the adjacent Southern Pacific Slip.
The study, which is expected to be delivered to the Board of Harbor Commissioners within several weeks, comes at a time when the market tenants, as well as a number of boat owners who tie up their vessels at the Southern Pacific Slip, are protesting a port proposal to build a fireboat station at the northern end of the markets. The two groups contend that the station would not only eliminate a major portion of the market's dock space, but would split the market from the slip where fishermen tie up their vessels.
Port planners, who have been ordered by commissioners to provide them with more information on alternative sites for the fireboat station, have declined to discuss the study until it is presented to commissioners. Nor will they say whether it is likely that recommendations to renovate or expand commercial fishing facilities will be included in the document.
"We're in the process of re-evaluating the needs of the fishermen in the port," said Sid Robinson, the port's planning director. "And we're really not sure where the industry is heading now."
Despite charges by fishermen that the port has been reluctant to invest in adequate facilities for their industry, Robinson, as well as Pete Mandia, the port's deputy planning director, said the port has carried out major elements of the 1981 plan that called for improvements at the fish markets and the Southern Pacific Slip.
For instance, they said, the port has completed a $1.2-million renovation project at the markets, where many local anglers unload their catches. At the Southern Pacific Slip, the port has spent nearly $200,000 for electrical improvements.
Nevertheless, at Fish Harbor--where plans called for the port to invest more than $24 million to construct a new basin to house the commercial fishing fleet and provide it with support facilities such as storage lockers, showers, a chandlery and a restaurant--progress has been slow or nonexistent.
Port officials maintain that since the report was completed, the Harbor Department has spent about $1 million to improve facilities at Fish Harbor. Most of the money was used to improve the three wooden piers in the area, which fisherman claim were not only in disrepair, but unsafe.
In addition, the officials said, the port is reviewing a study by the Army Corps of Engineers on the problem of wave surges in the area. The Harbor Department has repeatedly maintained that the problem, which has plagued the area for years and at times has damaged boats by whipping them against or under the piers, must be solved before any major projects can be undertaken.
But they also acknowledge that plans to renovate Fish Harbor, as well as other commercial fishing facilities throughout the port, have been in a state of continual review by the port the past two or three years as cannery closures, foreign competition and poor fishing conditions have thrown the industry into a state of flux.