The installation of a new fish hoist on Johnson Pier in Half Moon Bay Tuesday is drawing suspicion and frustration from a fishermen’s group about the San Mateo County Harbor District’s construction approval.
District officials, however, contend the hoist installation was done properly and according to lease guidelines though the board president said there could have been more communication.
“If proper outreach wasn’t done with other tenants and stakeholders, it’s unfortunate,” said Robert Bernardo, president of the Harbor District Board of Commissioners. “In this highly, obviously, competitive commercial fishing environment, there’s going to be some unhappy people. But here’s the thing, we have a lease for which we have a contractual agreement with and we have to abide by that which basically says each tenant can have two hoists wherever they choose, as long as they work with the harbormaster.”
District staff had assured fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor there would be consultation with those affected by the location of the hoist owned by a private fish buyer, said Porter McHenry, president of the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, which represents more than 20 commercial fisherman.
“They should have just asked the people who it directly affects, their whole life is about being able to unload our fish or our bait or our crab pots, we’d have to move. If it was replacing the same hoist or something minor, OK that’s fine, but this is a pretty major change,” McHenry said. “They don’t seem to really care that much about the fishermen and without the fishermen, the harbor is dead.”
The hoist is now one of four on the Johnson Pier and is used to load or unload fish from the boats up to the deck of the pier. There are three fish buyers at the harbor, and each until Tuesday had only one hoist.
The Three Captains Sea Products fish buyer appealed to the district for the installation of its second hoist, said Commissioner Jim Tucker.
“People may be a little bit jealous, people that just overreact to everything. This man had every right to put that hoist in and we made it difficult for him,” Tucker said. “The man’s entitled to the hoist, we even instructed the general manager to give him a letter for things he had to do to get the hoist and he did it.”
Mike McHenry, a fish buyer with Pillar Point Fisheries, said he is upset that one fish buyer received a hoist and doubled the business’ capacity while others were not offered it.
The allowance of the new hoist stems from the commission, after nearly 20 years, changing the terms of the fish buyer’s leases, said General Manager Peter Grenell. Per their lease, each of the three buyers can have two hoists, to be located wherever they choose as long as they work with the harbormaster, Grenell said.
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan questions why the fishermen and other stakeholders, who feel they aren’t being represented, hadn’t been consulted.
“Fishermen want to have input on infrastructure decisions and they should, because they’re the ones using the infrastructure and of course the district should be checking with them to see what their needs are,” Brennan said.
Brennan, Mike McHenry and Porter McHenry refer back to a Jan. 15 commission meeting where they say both Grenell and Harbormaster Scott Grindy assured the board the fishermen would be consulted prior to installing a new hoist.
“The general manager said he was in support of the public process/strategic planning process at the [Jan. 15] meeting but his actions [Tuesday] make it apparent that backroom deals still rule the day at Pillar Point Harbor. Stakeholders were ignored in favor of the ol’ boys club approach to running a public facility,” Brennan wrote in an email.
Bernardo said this was no backroom deal as the actions are clearly outlined in the lease agreement. The district must abide by the terms of the lease agreement and “where the hoist goes is between the fish buyer and the harbormaster; it’s not up to the community where it goes,” Bernardo said.
Yet the primary issue is the location and the district’s promise to consult with the stakeholders who have to maneuver around the hoist, McHenry said.
“The main thing is crab season I think it’s going to be the biggest issue. There’re 60 or 70 crab boats. It’s going to cause a lot of tension, probably slow the boats down, keeping them from making their income, stuck at the dock waiting,” McHenry said.
Bernardo and Grenell said physical constraint issues such as this will be discussed as the district looks toward developing its five-year business plan and it will apply for a grant for the plan at the end of the month.
Bernardo is hopeful that the new hoist will prove a benefit by expediting fish unloading from which the district will see more fees and the other fish buyers are welcome to appeal for a new hoist as well. As for outreach, it’s another thing the district will look toward improving, Bernardo said.
“Typically when you’re going to make any type of changes to your infrastructure you will send out a courtesy bulletin that tells people this is coming or there’s going to be construction here,” Bernardo said. “And that type of due diligence is usually done and if it hasn’t happened I’m sorry and it’s unfortunate it didn’t. But we’re constantly making improvements so hopefully next time we’ll be making better outreach as a district.”
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