California Watch

Fishing town struggling in wake of tsunami

By Matt Drange

California Watch

 It's been four months since tsunami waves generated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan ravaged the harbor in Northern California's Crescent City, destroying pilings and sinking 16 boats after ripping them from their docks.

But the diminutive harbor is still a long way from functional, crippling to a local economy dependent on the fishing industry. Tsunami victims, meanwhile, are finding little help in disaster relief, much of it in the form of reimbursements and loans they can’t afford.

Excluding the inmates who reside in Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City is home to about 4,200 people. The town already took a significant hit when most of the lumber mills and fish processing facilities were shuttered in the last decade, forcing hundreds to leave in search of jobs. Once home to eight lumber mills and three fish processing plants, Crescent City is down to just one of each.

“In a small community, when you lose 100 jobs, it's a big impact. Maybe five years ago, in the good ol' days, if you will, it wouldn't have been so bad,” said Bill Renfroe, executive director of Crescent City's Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority. “But today, with everybody struggling, it's a serious impact.”

Tsunami surges deposited more than 78,000 cubic yards of sediment in the inner boat basin, making it as shallow as four feet in some areas and effectively shutting out boats longer than 15 feet. The harbor is the largest Dungeness crab exporter on the West Coast. At one time, it had more than 100 fishing vessels; now there are only a handful.

Rita Hibbard's picture

A JAWS weekend - illuminating, challenging, rewarding

rita_hibbardwebI spent the weekend at the Journalism and Women Symposium at Snowbird, Utah, and it was a tremendous experience. I was on a panel speaking on entrepreneurial journalism Saturday, along with Susan White, senior editor of ProPublica, Marcia Parker, launch manager for California Watch at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Linda Jue, director and executive editor of the G. W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, and Mary Darcy, editor of  Cindy Richards, freelance journalist and operator of, moderated the discussion. What a talented group of women, who are coming at the issue of creating sustainable journalism from a huge range of experiences, including a hyper-local community news site (a0a) to a national and international deep-dive investigative site  largely funded by one deep-pockets supporter (ProPublica) to the Williams Center, which supports investigative reporting by journalists of color, women and youth, to  InvestigateWest - a nonprofit newbie with some funding but looking to become sustainable with support from individual donors, foundations and content sales.