For more than five years, San Pedro commercial fishermen have dreamed of their own wharf near Ports o' Call, made up of shops, fish markets and places where fishermen could clean and freeze their daily catch.
The idea has been seen as one way to help bail out the troubled fishing industry in Los Angeles Harbor.
On Thursday, about a dozen fishermen and government leaders met to begin talking about that and other plans to revitalize commercial fishing operations near San Pedro. Assembled by Mayor Tom Bradley, the Fishing Industry Task Force includes representatives of Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, County Supervisor Deane Dana and several state legislators serving the harbor area.
The idea of a San Pedro Fishermen's Wharf--a plan now receiving attention from harbor officials--was just one of the issues discussed at the group's two-hour opening session in Ports o' Call, said task force Chairman Frank Iacono, a fishing-industry representative. Also considered were recent cannery closures, changes in the size and character of the fish catch, marketing problems and rising insurance costs facing boat owners.
Proposals to Mayor
The group is scheduled to meet again Feb. 13 and to develop recommendations that will be presented to Bradley in two months, Iacono said. Although the group's opening discussions were largely to lay out the issues, he said, it is clear that the industry needs some help.
"We've had to limit our (fish) sales to two canneries, where there once used to be 25 taking our fish," Iacono said. Membership in the Fishermen's Cooperative Assn., a 60-year-old San Pedro trade group, has fallen from more than 170 boats to 27, representing a current total of about 270 fishermen, he said.
Fishermen persuaded Bradley to establish the task force last fall, said Brad Crowe, director of the mayor's Economic Development Office. Crowe, who attended Thursday's closed-door meeting, described it as an attempt to strike back against problems that once caught many commercial fishermen by surprise.
"The fishermen are becoming more sophisticated now," Crowe said. "The industry has been through a lot of changes. The fishermen are now trying to develop new markets and different products . . . trying to keep their heads above water."
15-Acre Site Studied
Iacono declined to reveal details of the Fishermen's Wharf plan, saying only that a 15-acre site is being considered. A private consultant is studying possible financing.
Such a facility would create a better market for fresh-fish sales and help to solve other problems, Iacono said. The wharf would include facilities for unloading and freezing the catch--facilities that fishermen currently do not own.
"Right now . . . we have to go to a second party to freeze and unload," Iacono, general manager of the Fisherman's Cooperative, explained. "That's a big cost to us."
Iacono said fishermen expect frozen fish to become an increasing share of their trade as the diminishing tuna market gives way to an increasing mackerel trade. Some of that mackerel is now being frozen and sold to pet-food companies, he said.
One of the biggest problems facing the industry is the rising cost of insurance, he said. Disability coverage has become so costly that some boat owners operate without it.
500% Insurance Increase
Crowe said some owners have seen their premiums rise 500% in the past four or five years. In many cases, he said, insurance costs thousands of dollars per year.
"That's a lot of mackerel," he said.
Iacono said the problems are difficult, but he pronounced the task-force meeting a very good start. Other members of the group include representatives of state Assemblymen Gerald Felando (R-San Pedro), Dave Elder (D-Long Beach)and Richard Floyd (D-Lawndale); state Sens. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach)and Ralph Dills (D-Gardena); and Reps. Glenn Anderson (D-Harbor City)and Dan Lungren (R-Long Beach).
"It's opening some doors for us," Iacono said. "This is the kind of thing we're looking for."