Captain Joe Cacciola (center)
Since June 2014, fishing-boat captain Joe Cacciola has been fighting to keep his charter sportfishing boat’s slip at the Oceanside Harbor. And since this September, he wondered each day if U.S. Marshals would show up to seize his boat, the Sea Star.
After receiving four unlawful detainers (a 30-day eviction notice) from Helgren’s Sportfishing, on August 5, in superior court, Helgren’s eviction case against the Sea Star was thrown out due to improper notice. But rather than refile, according to Cacciola, Helgren's sent a fifth eviction notice, this time implying that the Sea Star would be subject to seizure and arrest as trespassers by U.S. Marshals.
Because of the threat that feds would be involved, Cacciola filed a breach of contract suit in federal court. Recently, a federal magistrate negotiated a settlement, which will be in effect through 2016.
After the seven-hour meeting, the magistrate accepted three conditions of several requested in Helgren’s cross complaint. The Sea Star’s slip rental payment will increase from 10 percent of the ship’s gross to 15 percent.
“This 50 percent increase is in addition to the 7 percent of gross I also pay the City of Oceanside for use of their water space. No buildings, no land, no office, just water,” said Cacciola.
Also, Cacciola loses his two storage sheds on the dock, where he keeps his gear and school sea-lab equipment.
“If I can’t find space to rent at the harbor, those programs are over because hauling stuff back and forth will be a problem,” said Cacciola.
Thirdly, the Sea Star may no longer offer poles and tackle to its private charter groups. Rentals have to be arranged at Helgren’s tackle shop. Additionally, the Sea Star may not provide free use of the Penn reels and Shakespeare rods, companies who sponsor his sea-science labs for kids and Wounded Warrior trips. These nonprofit groups must also now rent from Helgren’s, which, Cacciola pointed out, will rent only conventional reels, not spinning reels, which are easier for kids to use.
Charter group prepared to cast off
The Sea Star has been running charter trips out of Oceanside Harbor for 34 years, renting a dock from Helgren’s Sportfishing. However, after Dick Helgren, his fellow captain and longtime buddy, passed away several years ago, things have not been easy for Cacciola.
Cacciola said he signed a long-term contract in 1982 with Dick Helgren, having renewable terms every five years. He believes his current term expires in 2017.
But the landing’s current owner, Joey Helgren, Dick’s son, has wanted the Sea Star gone for years, said Cacciola.
“Joey claims I’ve been on a month-to-month rental for years,” Cacciola said.
“We’ll get our own gear from now on. We’re not paying Helgren’s,” said Fred Kaczmarek of the Oceanside Senior Anglers fishing club. Kaczmarek books four youth-organization charter trips a year aboard the Sea Star.
With the restrictions, Cacciola says he has to raise his prices for charters and burials at sea; he makes 280 trips each year.
Listening to the discussion at the December 1 general meeting of the senior anglers, some of the club’s membership hopes Helgren’s days are numbered.
“We want Helgren’s out,” shouted a member in the audience.
The Oceanside senior fishermen’s club, with over 650 members, has refused for years to use nearby Helgren’s landing for its 15 annual trips. The club instead books trips through landings in Point Loma or Mission Bay.
Helgren’s exclusive contract with the city ends on May 5, 2017. In 2016, the city will put out a request for proposal for bids from other sportfishing operators.
Since October, 205 supporters have “liked” Cacciola’s “Save the Sea Star” Facebook page. So far, a petition to keep the Sea Star operating out of Oceanside has garnered 331 signatures.
“We’re not just another sportfishing outfit. We’re part of the community. We hope city leaders will recognize that,” said Cacciola.
(revised 12/10, 12:45 p.m.)