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Sunday, October 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fishermen's Terminal is losing its fishermen

Seattle Times staff reporter

Documentary


"Fishermen's Terminal," an hourlong documentary about the controversy surrounding the Port of Seattle's 2002 decision to allow recreational boats to moor at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal, will air at 9 p.m. Thursday on KCTS TV. A half-hour panel discussion on the latest developments at the terminal will follow. The documentary will repeat at 1 p.m. next Sunday and at 2:30 a.m. Oct. 10.

There used to be a Steve Mathews and his 36-foot gill-netter, and a Dave Street who boasted a 58-foot purse seiner named "The Foremost" and a Mel something-or-other with his troller, "The Laif."

Pete Knutson, a 33-year fishing veteran from West Seattle, could go on and on with names of former colleagues, local fishermen who once moored at the docks of Fishermen's Terminal but have since moved to Alaska or closed shop because of competition from larger commercial fleets.

"It doesn't feel as friendly as it used to," said Knutson, as he eyed rows of pleasure boats moored at docks once reserved exclusively for the North Pacific fishing fleet.

These are tough times for the small-boat fishermen here. The dwindling but proud bunch of blue-collar workers have had to accept, albeit grudgingly, the Port of Seattle's 2002 decision to allow yachts and pleasure boats to berth at Fishermen's Terminal as a way to reduce the high vacancy rate and to raise money to fix up the World War I era facility.

Yesterday marked the 17th Annual Fishermen's Fall Festival at Fishermen's Terminal, a day to honor fishermen returning from sea. Included was a ceremony to honor the more than 600 Seattle-area fishermen who have lost their lives at sea since 1900.

The occasion served as a dedication of engraved memorial tiles purchased by the public to honor fishermen who died.

The salmon-fillet challenge and the lutefisk-eating and oyster-slurping contests all made a great spectacle, veteran festival observers said, but there was one group largely absent: the small-boat fishermen.

Their number has declined in the past two decades, mirroring a state trend. Ten years ago, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife issued 1,132 salmon gill-net licenses for Puget Sound. The number dropped to 204 last year.

Port of Seattle administrators report that the vacancy rate at Fishermen's Terminal dropped from 22 percent to 5 percent after the docks were opened to recreational boats.

"It was a prudent business practice," Port Commissioner Bob Edwards said. "It was a great way to generate some revenues that we will put back" into the facilities. Thus far, the Port has raised nearly $500,000 from recreational boaters.

Still, said Knutson, "This is the last place in the greater Seattle area where the fishing boats have a place of their own."

With the recreational boaters and the $60 million facelift to the 91-year-old terminal, the Port is "gradually changing the character of this place. Ten years down the line, you will not even recognize the place," he said.

Four years ago, as plans were under way to open the terminal to pleasure boats, the fishermen protested with a "Yachts are not welcome here" sign.

These days, the furor has died down. Some fishermen have become friends with their recreational-boat neighbors.

And many are more concerned about their survival in the face of higher fuel costs and competition from farmed-raised salmon.

"Personally, I have no conflict" with the recreational boaters, said 69-year old fisherman Bill Riley, who has moored his boat here for the past 40 years. "But just the idea of having them here was hard to accept because it means this industrial base for fishermen is disappearing."

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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