Port hopes new net shed shelving will suffice

Some fishermen say shelving replacing unsafe lofts is not enough, others like it

The Port of Seattle is trying to compromise, but the removal of net shed lofts at Fishermen's Terminal remains a contentious issue for fishermen. Whether the Port's pilot program will adequately replace the old lofts is in question. Regardless, the old lofts will be dismantled - meaning fishermen will need to trim their belongings whether they want to or not.

The lofts must come down because they do not comply with Seattle Fire Department codes, Port officials said.

"It's not like we're making an issue of this," said Port spokesman Peter McGraw. "It is an issue." Though the lofts have never suffered a fire, McGraw said the Seattle Fire Department and Department of Planning and Development have told him they are unsafe and illegal. He added. "We've finally gotten to the point where we actually have to do something about it. Just because something has been wrong in the past doesn't mean we have to continue to have it wrong in the future."

To make up for the lost space, the Port plans to put metal shelving into the lockers. But some say that's not enough.

"They need to proceed by first asking what the fishermen need and not coming in and disrupting business," said salmon and halibut fisherman Pete Knutson, who has been moored at Fishermen's Terminal since 1972 and sits on the Fishermen's Terminal Advisory Committee (FTAC).

"The question is if it's not up to code why has the Port allowed their net sheds to fall in this kind of disrepair. They're supposed to support our business. Why don't they bring it up to code?"

Though the Port considered the option, reworking the sprinkler system around the loft structures was not a cost-effective solution, McGraw said. The shelving units are a way to "retain some of the storage capacity they would be losing with the lofts being removed," McGraw added.

However, the gesture doesn't seem to be sufficient.

"The shelving they're referring to meets the fire code and of course it's pretty much inadequate," said David Harsila, chairman of FTAC and salmon fisherman. "I don't see how it's going to be able to support fishermen's needs. It won't come close to accommodating the stuff fishermen have to store. It's a compromise but one that doesn't mean much for fishermen."

To illustrate the pilot program, the Port dismantled one of the net shed lofts and transferred fisherman John Crowley's materials into another nearby locker yesterday.

Crowley, who was originally opposed to the change, said he's happy with what the Port's doing.

"In the beginning I didn't like the idea of change either," Crowley said, "but I realized I was fighting a battle that couldn't and shouldn't be won."

Crowley's former net shed had a loft, put together with scraps of wood over the past 40 years, and Crowley's not sad to see it go.

"[The new net shed] looks to me it'll be as much space, if not more," Crowley said. "To me, I'm not losing anything; the shelves will be easier for me. I'm very happy about the change."

Though not all of the 242 net-shed lockers have illegal loft structures, McGraw predicts the process will take years.

"It isn't something we're going to have everyone do at the same time. We don't want anyone to lose a day of fishing, a day of work," McGraw said, "and we want to try and get these new shelving systems to work just as good as the old ones. Folks are going have to take a little bit of stock into what they want to keep, throw away and sell."

The Port will put metal shelving into net sheds if asked, or fisherman can move into an up-to-code net shed as they become available, but either way the longtime lofts are on their way out.

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