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L. A. Moves to Repair Fire-Damaged Wharf, Bail Out Fishermen

February 11, 1988|SHERYL STOLBERG | Times Staff Writer

The beleaguered San Pedro fishing industry, which suffered another setback last week when fire destroyed 300 feet of wharf and damaged nets and half a dozen fishing boats, received a boost Wednesday from two corners of Los Angeles city government.

The Board of Harbor Commissioners, at the request of Mayor Tom Bradley, voted to spend $450,000 to immediately repair the damaged wharf at the Port of Los Angeles. The commissioners also instructed the port staff to help fishermen find grants or emergency low-cost loans to finance the repair or replacement of their vessels.

And, in a long-awaited development, a City Council committee recommended that the city lend $450,000 to the Fishermen's Cooperative Assn. so the organization can purchase a 1,300-ton freezer for a cannery it operates on Terminal Island.

U.S. Grant Sought

The Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee also recommended that the city apply for a $1-million grant from the federal government, which the city would lend the cooperative for additional cold storage equipment. Both loans will carry below-market interest rates.

The measure, which will come before the full council Tuesday, is good news for the fishing industry, which is just beginning to recover from years of being battered by foreign competition and cannery closures. And the harbor commissioners' vote came as a relief to fisherman affected by the fire, none of whom had insurance.

"This is the first time we find out we've got a hope for somebody to help us," said fisherman Jim D'Amato, whose boat, the Anna Maria II, was one of two boats that can no longer operate because of damage from the Jan. 31 fire.

The harbor commissioners' vote was prompted by a Feb. 2 letter to the board from Bradley, who instructed the commissioners to make repairing the wharf their "highest priority." The letter also asked the commissioners to consider having the port provide emergency financial assistance to the fishermen if none could be found elsewhere, and to consider allowing the fishermen to defer payment of wharf rents until they get back on their feet.

"We simply cannot permit this fire to set back the recovering fortunes of the fishermen and their families," Bradley wrote.

Fire officials estimated that the blaze--started by an electrical short in a street lamp, which ignited the wooden dock--caused $1,558,600 in damage. The dock, which had been treated with creosote, was quickly consumed by flames.

The fire hurt the fishing industry as well as the individual boat owners. The loss of two boats means less business for the Terminal Island cannery, which is owned by the fishermen through their cooperative.

The 22-member cooperative purchased the cannery last year from Star-Kist Foods Inc., just as Star-Kist was about to close it. Frank Iacono, general manager of the cooperative, said the cannery now buys more than $1 million a month in fish from the San Pedro fleet. In the past, fishermen considered it a good month if Star-Kist spent $350,000.

Iacono said the low-interest loan approved by the council committee would help the cooperative expand its cannery operations. Last week, the cannery processed between 1,200 and 1,300 tons of fish. Fisherman hope that in the future it will handle 1,600 to 1,700 tons a week.

Red Tape Delay

The loan and grant application have been caught up in red tape for more than a year, since the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation gave the city a $500,000 grant for the fishing industry.

The city, which will use $50,000 of that money to manage the loan program, had also applied for a $1-million grant that the federal government would give directly to the cooperative.

But that application fell through because the cooperative, under the name United Food Processors Inc., runs the cannery on a for-profit basis. The federal government would not provide a grant to a profit-making business, and the city had to revise its application to request the money as a loan.

If the additional $1 million comes through, Iacono said, it will be used to purchase fast-freezing tunnels for the cannery. The four tunnels, each of which holds 25 tons of fish, can freeze fish in 24 hours.

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