PORT TOWNSEND — Scott Kimmel pointed to a plastic tote filled with water a few feet deep. He pulled out a live Dungeness crab, the top product he distributes from New Day Fisheries in Port Townsend.
“There used to be a lot of distributors in the seafood business,” he said. “They were up and down the Puget Sound. We’re kind of one of the last ones left.”
Kimmel has been in business for more than 30 years, and he now has the long-term security he’s been seeking from the Port of Port Townsend.
Port commissioners recently approved a 30-year lease for the land, about 29,600 square feet, where Kimmel operates at 2427 Washington St. The lease will go into effect May 1 and run through April 30, 2049. Kimmel’s rent will be $2,072 per month, according to lease documents.
But it almost didn’t happen at all.
The four buildings on the property had been surplussed for three years, Port Deputy Director Eric Toews told commissioners March 27.
“There was a proposed lease for 50 years of the land itself, and the commission was concerned about the term of the lease [in 2016],” Toews said.
At that time, commissioners talked about reducing the term, but there was a change in port administration and the matter was tabled.
“The new administration took the view that this was the wrong path, the buildings should not be sold, and it was a port responsibility to find the means to bring them back into good repair,” Toews said.
Kimmel has agreed to purchase the four buildings on the property for $101,250 and maintain them for the port, according to lease documents.
Now he’s relieved, considering he’s been on a month-to-month agreement since an original 15-year lease and a five-year extension, he said.
“I have a tremendous amount of equipment and maintenance that goes on here,” he said.
Kimmel distributes more than 1 million pounds of seafood per year. He’s a third-generation fisherman, following his grandfather, Bob Spaulding, and his father, Denny Kimmel.
“I originally started the business with the idea of buying my dad’s product,” Scott Kimmel said.
He trolled for salmon, longlined halibut and black cod, mostly in northeast Alaska, Kimmel said. The fish was frozen at sea and marketed to stores and restaurants.
Eventually, Kimmel started to purchase from local tribal fishermen.
Now, the market calls for crab and shrimp.
“Dungeness crab is the No. 1 product nowadays,” Kimmel said. “It’s almost an all-live market. That’s where we’ve found our niche, delivering live seafood.
“We’ve transformed from a small distributor to bulk. We distribute to other distributors and export.”
Some product, such as pink shrimp, is sent to Iceland and China. He also distributes jars of pickled herring to Poulsbo.
The live seafood is packaged in a Styrofoam box with ice. Oxygen is pumped into the container, and it’s immediately sent by truck in pallets to the airport.
Kimmel said the maximum time to keep the seafood alive during transport is about 30 hours. International exports can push that limit, but it’s not as challenging domestically.
“The longest flight is about six hours to New York,” he said. “It’s a bit easier.”
Throughout the years, Kimmel has had 15 full-time employees and sometimes as many as 30 during the peak season.
He’s purchased his own ice machine that produces 20,000 pounds of flake ice per day. He has his own crane, three personal fishing boats, including the 58-foot Adriatic and the 51-foot Ellie J, plus a blast freezer primarily for shrimp exports. He also has a fleet of five trucks.
Kimmel wants to become more efficient with live crab storage with stackable totes, and he may get into the direct-sale business with a retail operation open to customers at his shop.
“At last count, there are approximately 200 local fishermen we support by buying their products, both tribal and non-tribal,” Kimmel said.
It’s quite different than buying from his dad and a few of his friends.
“Some has been driven by the market, some driven by supply,” Kimmel said. “We’ve succeeded by diversifying and changing with the times.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].