Don't melt the butter yet

Crab fishermen unload a catch of fresh crab in Pillar Point Harbor. Review file photo

The San Mateo County Harbor District is hosting a public workshop on Thursday to consider instituting a 2.5 percent fee on earnings from off-the-boat sales at Pillar Point Harbor and Oyster Point Marina.

Harbor General Manager Jim Pruett said the fee would put fishermen selling off their boats on equal ground with all other commercial sellers operating the harbor who are subject to similar operational fees under current Commercial Activity Permits. The fee would go to maintaining public infrastructure at the harbor, including public bathrooms, floating docks, parking lots and pier safety, amenities the harbor district currently manages using taxpayer dollars.

“(Off-the-dock sales) is the only activity on the harbor that draws thousands of people a week that does not pay that service fee,” Pruett said.

The proposal on the table at 6 p.m. on Thursday is to include the fee in the Commercial Activity Permit, which would be offered in addition to the Limited Commercial Activity Permits currently available. Pruett said this full-year permit may be more relevant to fishermen selling year-round, while those specializing in crab or salmon could continue to get limited permits during their relative seasons.

Harbor District Board President Virginia Chang Kiraly said she moved to call the special meeting, as opposed to a public study session, so elected commissioners could all attend, participate and answer questions from the community.

“We felt it was important because this has an impact on the people who use the pier,” Chang Kiraly said. “That includes commissioners and how they might be impacted or not.”

Pruett and Chang Kiraly said the permit and fee is meant to prevent the Harbor District from subsidizing specific private businesses. Chang Kiraly said the board is willing to consider other options based on public feedback on Thursday.

While the Harbor District has not previously collected data on off-the-boat sales, Pruett said the impact to the harbor is evident. He noted crowds that come and visit during busy, fair weather weekends to buy fresh fish. If the new permit is instituted, fishermen would be required to submit their sales to the district when paying the quarterly fee.

“We are trying to support business, but we have to be mindful of the fact that it's still public property,” Chang Kiraly said. The discussion will be held at 6 p.m. on June 10 via Zoom. More information is posted at www.smharbor.com.

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