Point of View: Announced Harbor fees for seine skiff moorage don’t compare to industry standard

I recently became aware of the new tariff changes which would charge us for our seine skiffs. I made a post about this on social media and got an unprecedented amount of traffic on this post and as it became a community conversation, I became aware that we as fishermen and Homer residents have similar feelings about several of the harbor policies and I would like to address them.

There is great opposition to the new rule regarding additional charges for our seine skiffs. I called the harbormasters in Valdez, Whittier, Kodiak, Cordova and Sitka. Here is what each of those ports do regarding seine skiffs.

Valdez: There is no charge for seine skiffs as long as they are tied to their seiner and not taking up additional dock room.

Kodiak: There is no charge for seine skiffs during the spring and the summer. In the fall and the winter if you have your seine skiff in, you are charged an additional amount.

Whittier: There is no charge for seine skiffs 14 feet long and under.

Cordova: There is no charge for seine skiffs but there is movement towards a nominal fee ($100/year) in order to make sure the skiffs are registered and insured.

Sitka: The harbor charges for the combined length of seiner and the skiff.

Industry standard in the Gulf of Alaska seems to be not charging for seine skiffs during the preparation period for the fishing season and the fishing season itself. Exceptions seem to be when the seine skiffs are taking up room at the dock or blocking a larger vessel from tying up. Homer already has the highest, by far, daily transient fee of any of these harbors. It is excruciating for the commercial fleet to consider paying even more moorage for their skiffs. For lower Cook Inlet seiners, which are not built to put skiffs on deck, this fee will be very debilitating. For myself, I choose not to put my skiff on deck because I believe it puts an enormous amount of strain on my rigging and creates an unsafe environment for my crew.

I would propose that Homer either remove the skiff tariff or create a small annual fee ($100) to make sure the skiffs are insured (Cordova is requiring their harbor to be listed as additional insured). Another option would be to remove the tariff for seine skiffs under 20 feet long. Skiffs over this length are typically owned by boats large enough to load them on the deck. This tariff unfairly burdens the smaller vessels which cannot safely load their skiffs, and also would encourage people to unsafely load their skiffs in order to avoid the extra fees.

The second item that came up in this community conversation is that people are floored by the fact that they can reserve a stall on an annual basis, and then if they choose to put a different vessel in that stall that they own, they get charged additional fees. For an example, if I own a seiner and pay for an annual stall rate, but in the winter choose to put my Kachemak Bay runaround boat in it instead, I get charged for an additional boat. This has been creating hard feelings in the community for years and years it turns out. As customers at the harbor, it feels extremely unfriendly. There doesn’t seem to be any real justification for this unless the new boat is longer than the allowed length for the stall.

There is serious community ire about this increased fee structure. Many residents told stories about having their main boat break down and the need to use a different one to access their homes across the bay and being charged for a second boat even though they were parking in their own stall. I think this policy absolutely needs to change.

Overall, I was surprised to learn that everyone else in this community conversation felt the same way about the harbor culture that I do. In our experience, it seems to be the feeling that we are putting the harbor out, somehow, by pulling in with our boats. The culture that is present in Valdez harbor, where you feel welcomed to the port, doesn’t seem to exist in Homer. When I come home from a season of fishing, I should be excited to pull into the harbor, but instead it often feels like I am a burden on the harbormasters, and not welcomed.

I think this is a culture change that needs to happen. In our conversation, one person mentioned that the Homer harbor culture has always seemed “militant.” I think this is a very accurate summary of how I feel when dealing with the harbor.

This point of view was originally composed as a letter to the Homer City Council. I don’t often write the City, but the overwhelming and dissatisfied community conversation regarding Homer harbor policies was enough to prompt me to write. Who is it we want to be as a city? The harbor with the highest rates for moorage in the Gulf and simultaneously the least friendly and least willing to make situations work for stall owners, commercial fishermen and local residents? I hope that’s not what we want to be, but it is what we have become.

Megan Corazza is a lifelong resident of Homer. She has run a commercial salmon seiner out of Homer since 2000, and before that grew up on her parents’ seiner.