By Susan Chambers,
Mike Gaul, deputy executive director of
the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay,
right, listens to troller Jeff Reeves as
they discuss impounding boats at the
Charleston boat basin Friday. World Photo
by Madeline Steege
CHARLESTON - The impounding
of commercial fishing vessels by the Oregon
International Port of Coos Bay, particularly
salmon trollers, has stopped.
But the fallout over the threat to impound the
boats of some of the harbor's struggling
salmon fishermen has not.
It was early last week when Harbormaster Don
Yost was requested to sign a letter notifying
a handful of boat owners that access to their
vessels would be restricted and the boats
would be impounded, Yost said.
But Yost found he couldn't
sign those letters.
He turned in his resignation letter on
Thursday, effective immediately.
“There's a face with every boat,” Yost said.
Oregon International Port of Coos Bay
Communications Director Martin Callery said
Yost delivered his letter to Executive
Director Jeffrey Bishop in person and it had
Until last week, most of the boats that had
been impounded were vessels belonging to
out-of-town owners or owners who were marginal
fishermen. The next round of scheduled
impounds was for vessels whose owners have
been active fishermen and familiar faces
around the harbor; fishermen who are quick to
loan a tool or help to fellow fishermen.
The Port of Coos Bay points out that the boats
scheduled for impounds were not on the
deferred-moorage plan designed to aid trollers
in 2006, when the salmon season was cut
Yost countered that, even so, the owners on
the impound list had past-due amounts higher
than they should have for several months,
before the deferral program went into effect
nearly a year ago. At least one has a current
balance near $4,000 in moorage fees and
storage unit fees. Why wasn't something done
sooner? Yost wanted to know.
“The port's missed the
opportunity to head this off,” Yost said. “We
let it fester until we have a full-blown
What some people forget, Rayburn “Punch” Guerin
said over coffee at the Basin Café, was that
2005 was a salmon season disaster, too.
No, it was never formally declared a fishery
failure by the government - despite the fishing
industry's request to do so - but Charleston
fishermen had their season gutted in 2005. The
prime fishing months of June, July and August
were off-limits to trolling for the same reason
the season was closed entirely in 2006: to
protect weak runs of Klamath River fall Chinook.
Trollers still are reeling from the 2005 season.
A few of the boats that are capable of fishing
for other species did pursue other
opportunities. Some crabbed this year, but this
year's crab season has also turned out to be
less than stellar.
Some vessel owners took to stripping their boats
of gear and equipment - just in case talking
with the Port didn't work out and their boats
ended up on chocks in the shipyard. Others were
facing homelessness, since they live on their
“That's their life,” Yost said.
Callery said Friday that in the wake of Yost's
resignation, Deputy Executive Director Mike Gaul
and Director of Finance and Administration Donna
Nichols would oversee things in Charleston.
He also said the port “received calls from
Salem” regarding the impound situation.
Gaul was in Charleston on Friday, trying to work
out payment plans with boat owners so
impoundment could be avoided. He was able to
contact most of the owners on the list.
“We'll work with anybody,” he said.
Already, there has been some progress.
“The two boats that were impounded last week
worked out payment plans,” Gaul said.
Callery said that three to five boats whose
owners qualified for moorage deferment were
getting close to receiving letters notifying
them that their boats would be impounded. None
of them made any attempt at paying their moorage
fees, he said.
Many fishermen understood that moorage payments
hinged on the industry receiving federal aid,
not necessarily state money, troller Jeff Reeves
said late Friday.
The minutes of the port meetings during which
the moorage deferment program was discussed
identify federal aid, too. Many trollers who
received state aid, though, did pay their
moorages, Callery said.
Seizing boats is not new.
“There have always been a few boats every year
that get impounded,” Callery said.
Seizing a boat isn't the port's preferred option
when trying to collect on fees owed.
“It adds to our liability,” Callery said, noting
that once a boat is seized, the port is
accountable for its safekeeping. “We don't want
to do that.”