Quick work by Makah tribal members saves tons of halibut from wreck

NEAH BAY — Thirteen tons of newly caught halibut worth more than $200,000 were successfully retrieved by Makah tribal members Monday from a stranded refrigerated tractor-trailer on state Highway 112, a Cape Flattery Fishermen’s Co-op supervisor said Tuesday.

The 40-foot trailer was being pulled by a 1994 Freightliner semi-tractor when the driver went off the road at about noon Monday and into a ditch minutes after leaving Neah Bay, the State Patrol said, adding that no one was hurt.

The catch was offloaded from the hobbled trailer by 6 p.m. Monday and was on its way safe and sound about two hours later to Pacific Coast Seafood in Astoria, Ore., said Joey Lawrence, the co-op’s general manager.

“The State Patrol, everyone else, thought, ‘No way,’ but our workers handle so much fish and they know what to do and were able to save that fish and get it out of there and put it on another truck, and off it goes,” Lawrence said.

Went off road

Loyd Weaver, 60, of Seaside, Ore., had just left the co-op on the Makah reservation and was driving eastbound on 112 when he went off the road at 11:47 a.m. at milepost 1 near Bull Man Creek, State Patrol spokesman Trooper Russ Winger said.

“He was driving on the shoulder enough to become inoperable and it sucked him into the dirt embankment,” Winger said.

The mishap blocked 112’s eastbound lane on the curving road until about 6 p.m. Monday.

Weaver was fined $186 for a wheels-off-the-road infraction and will receive an additional penalty for getting into a collision, Winger said.

About 60 gallons of diesel fuel were contained in an effort coordinated by the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center, Winger said.

The trailer, which had rolled, was set back on its wheels by a crane truck, its refrigeration apparatus intact.

26,000 pounds of fish

Inside the trailer were 26,000 pounds of cleaned, whole halibut worth $200,000 to $250,000 wholesale to the tribe, Lawrence said.

It amounted to about 25 percent of the tribe’s catch from the 39-hour halibut opener that ended at 7 a.m. Saturday and involved about 25 boats.

“We had to step in as fast as we could to help out the trucking company, the company buying it, plus to get into swift action, and we were able to save it, and it all ended good,” Lawrence said.

The fish were brought back to the co-op’s plant and reloaded onto another trailer.

“We needed to save that fish, even though it was probably covered by insurance,” Lawrence said.

Saving the catch was about more than money, he said.

“The sea is the Makah’s country; that’s where we come from is the sea,” he said.

“Everything comes from the ocean for us, so it’s very important to us.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@ peninsuladailynews.com.