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Joe Cacciola, Owner/Operator of Sea Star Charters

The Oceanside SEA Center Plan

Oceanside CA— The current lease is set to expire on a prime piece of real property and dock space, at the Oceanside Harbor, which has been occupied by Helgren’s Sport Fishing for almost 40 years. Last year, the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor District put out a Request for Proposals(RFP) to be submitted no later than May 31, 2016. In August of last year, the Oceanside SEA Center was informed, after a review of the RFP’s submitted, they had been selected to negotiate a lease on the real property and dock space. On September 8, 2016, the group that forms the Oceanside SEA Center received an email from the city stating “there is a glitch in the process and we are handling it internally.” Since that time, the City has been in negotiations and trying to develop a compromise that would satisfy everyone involved.

“There has been a lot of misrepresentations, misinformation and outright falsehoods printed and on social media about what we are.” said Joe Cacciola, Owner/Operator of Sea Star Charters and part of the partnership the forms the Oceanside SEA Center. “What is getting lost in all of this is what we want to bring to the harbor with the Oceanside SEA Center.”

Joe Cacciola, also known to many as Captain Joe, has lived in Oceanside for forty-five years and has worked here since 1974. He is the most experienced member of the coalition that is the Oceanside SEA Center with more than 40 years in the maritime passenger-for-hire industry. The rest of the collaborative is; Captain Ernie Prieto, owner of Chubasco Sportfishing, with over 20 years experience in the commercial passenger fishing industry and currently operates a successful charter businesses out of San Diego and the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER), a 501(c)3 non-profit research institute dedicated to the advancement of sustainable fishing practices with over 20 years of history in Oceanside.

“First of all, Open Party sportfishing is part of our business plan. Always has been,” said Captain Joe. “Included in that are youth fishing trips I do. We have trips for individual youth groups but we also have trips for organized groups like the Oceanside Senior Anglers. They sponsor four or five trips a year for groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Boy Scouts. The Ecke YMCA has been doing trips with us for twenty years. The Oceanside Parks and Rec Department does two trips a year with us. The idea is to get the kids out on the water and get that experience. This is something we would like to expand.” continued the Captain, “We will have open party, we will have private charters, we will expand the youth fishing trips and we will expand the Open Classroom. You can’t eliminate open party. You need to have that.” The open party is where an individual or a couple of people want to buy a ticket, go on board with a bunch of other people on a scheduled boat including half-day and full day trips. Private charters are usually booked in advance and the group sets the schedule and amount of people that go on the trip.

The SEA (Science Education and Adventure) Center wants to bring the public an enhanced harbor experience by combining sportfishing and whale watching adventures with an expanded educational and research platform that promotes marine stewardship and sustainability. “This will be the twenty-first year that I’ve been doing the “Ocean Classroom” which are floating science labs. We have brought out more than 13,000 students over the past twenty years.” said Captain Joe.

The Ocean Classroom is open to all schools, “Public schools, private school, charter schools, home schools, youth groups. It’s hands-on science.” explained Captain Joe, “We bring up finned fish, invertebrates, and plants. We keep them alive and identify them. We tell the kids how the animals make their living.”

The Ocean Classroom includes a plankton lab where they bring up water samples containing microscopic creatures. “We invested in a large LCD screen with a color video microscope and we conduct an actual microscopic science lab because that’s a whole other world out there.”

At the end of the trip, students review what they learned out on the water. “The students find out about a lot of subjects; oceanography, biology, chemistry, geology but what we explain to them early on is what their life connection is to the sea. I tell them at the beginning; if you don’t remember anything else, well remember the safety stuff but also remember that all life comes from the sea. I have them repeat that with me and I ask them; If the ocean is healthy, are we? If the ocean isn’t doing well, how about us? What happens if the ocean dies?  That’s why we need to be good stewards of the sea. You have to be knowledgeable about it and you have to pass that knowledge on. By the end of the day, you see that little spark in their eyes. It’s a day of discovery for them.”

“I want to continue doing this which is why a partnership with the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research (PIER) is so important. Part of their mission is to not only to do sustainable fisheries research but to do public outreach and marine environment education. We intend to extend that program greatly. Dockside we want to have some in the water lab space that will compliment what we do on the boat. The institute will have their interns and scientist there to have more educational opportunities for them. It’s going to be great.” said Captain Joe.” It’s more than just whale watching. Whale watching is great but this just expands on that.”

artist rendering of proposed changes

Their plan includes some renovation of the existing property “tenant improvements” where PIER will occupy the top floor of the two-story building. “We are going to spend some money there. We can’t actually change the structure of the building but we’re going to upgrade it. Make it a little more modern looking.” explained Captain Joe. They plan on building an external staircase so the people at PIER will have easy access without interfering with the business side of things. Install all new windows, doors, upgrade the lighting to energy efficient LED lighting and include public art in and around the building. “We want to build an aquarium, living, live aquaria, right into the exterior wall of the building. Not a Birch type aquarium but not just some little tank. We are talking 6’x8′ or larger, a coastal habitat so it’s viewable from the sidewalk. You won’t have to walk into the building. You’re not going to have to pay to see this. You can imagine walking by with your family and the kids see this. People will be able to come inside where we will have other exhibits. We would like to include some of our exhibits in the hallway that runs down the center of the large retail building where the restaurants and other retail stores are located. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

“I think with what PIER has to offer and the great research they are doing. The experience with retail and social media my that partner, Ernie, brings and his two boats from Mission Bay. My experience and time here at Oceanside Harbor make our coalition unique. It’s not just a bunch of fisherman throwing something together. We are all college educated. It’s professional. I think it’s  good Oceanside wants to tap into that expertise,” said Captain Joe.

“The Oceanside SEA Center’s vision is realistic, balanced and will offer an increased revenue stream compared to current operations by attracting visitors and residents interested in science and education as well as those seeking recreation and sportfishing activities.” according to their written statement.

The current lease for the property expires May 5 and a decision by the City is expected soon.

To learn more about the Oceanside SEA Center, visit their website [Link]