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Fishing industry gets hooked up again after Santa Barbara harbor was closed by sand

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.  - With the weekend reopening of the Santa Barbara harbor, the fishing industry is getting back on schedule, and some are calculating losses.

While weather conditions are always a variable, the sand blockade was said to be one of the biggest and fastest hits to the harbor entrance in recent memory.

The commercial fishing industry saw many boats docked instead of out in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Some fishermen were able to get in just before the noon deadline last Wednesday and get thousands of dollars worth of product out to fish markets, including overseas.

Without their swift action at high tide they would have been delayed.

Others could not move that quickly in or out and waited it out.

 Fishermen with losses or in need of support under the latest storm emergency have now been given information to file claims or tax relief.
They met Monday.

Special relief centers have been opened with staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency along with numerous other agencies who have been called together to respond. 

 Chris Voss heads the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara group which organizes those who fish for a living and works on sustainable fishing issues. He says, "there is web site that we have given guys direction that describes in detail the different programs.  There is more than one option to pursue."

He says it is a priority to get the information out to those who can use it now, or at another time.

"Commercial Fisherman of Santa Barbara definitely tries to keep the fishermen aware of what's available to thrive and plus we are working on a number of initiatives in order to support the industry."

Island Hooker boat owner Robert Church was asked about the harbor issues while working on his vessel in a harbor slip. "Nobody likes to see the sandbar shutting anyone out. There's a lot of commercial fishermen in the harbor and it affects everybody who is a commercial fisherman."

His fishing boat has been around since the 80's catching urchin and with the long lines, white fish, rock cod and many others that sell well to the public and restaurants.

The emergency dredging needed to go deep for his vessel.
"In my case I need a little bit more water because my boat is a little bit deeper," said Church.

The lobster season is well underway and the storm had an impact  especially in near shore waters.

Voss said,  "the storm damage did a great deal of damage to fishing gear as well so I think will be those guys who will benefit from recovery funds."

Lobster traps along the coast were tossed from their locations and this year they expect to see many losses. When the season ends in March there will be a big cleanup from the beaches where the traps often end up.

Already the impact is described as one of the most significant in lobster fishing history in the local waters.

Santa Barbara's commercial fishing fleet is a vital component to the economy and  many of the fishermen says they will be  able to get through last weekend closure of the harbor without a big setback.

"We're a $13-million  a year port with a multiplier of three and four and so it is a $30-40 million industry that's local here," said Voss.
Many of the fishermen try to sell locally,  but also have solid orders in the U.S. and over seas that keep them financially afloat.

Voss said, "we are all small businessmen and a few  years back we were rated the most  productive port in the state of California for dollar value of fish landed. That was predominately driven by the lobster fishery"

For those who are selling directly to the public, they are anticipating a smooth return and that includes the sale directly from the boats Saturday morning at the city pier.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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