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Fort Bragg Fisherman Wilton Cruz Navigates New Waters of Business Ownership

Wilton Cruz, a fisherman from Fort Bragg, has been steeped in the traditions of commercial fishing since childhood, with inspiration from his father, who holds the distinction of being Fort Bragg's first Latino commercial fishing captain. Over the course of 15 years, Wilton has dedicated himself to mastering the intricacies of various fisheries, cultivating a profound affection for the sea and nurturing a longstanding ambition to own his own boat and fishing business.

Wilton Cruz (Middle) with Luis Vidal(Left) and Gabe Monday (Right) on his fishing vessel F/V Abe.

In 2023, an extraordinary opportunity presented itself when retiring fisherman John Yearwood offered Wilton a comprehensive vessel and permit package at an exceptional price, fulfilling a promise made over a decade ago. “About 12 years ago, I asked John if he’s ever interested in selling the boat. Sure enough, he decided to retire, and he reached out to me, offering me the boat. This was a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” 

Guided by the California Ocean Protection Council, Wilton was referred to California FarmLink, increasingly known for supporting small-scale and beginning fishers, alongside a commitment to resource conservation and business success. Before learning about FarmLink, Wilton believed that accessing a loan for his business would be stressful. However, FarmLink’s personalized guidance and low interest rates made the loan process smooth and manageable for Wilton. “FarmLink really wants to help out small business owners. I was nervous about jumping through hoops, but it was always smooth sailing throughout the process.” 

In addition to securing the loan, Wilton benefited from the Resilerator, which offers comprehensive courses and tailored guidance in business management and bookkeeping, helping Wilton navigate the complexities of running a fishing operation. “It really helps taking those classes because you hear other people's experiences, and how they are able to work through the stuff that comes up with being a business owner,” Wilton said. In addition to enhancing his confidence, the program has also provided him with the necessary skills to successfully manage his fishing business.

For Wilton, this partnership signifies more than just access to capital and business technical assistance; it fulfills a lifelong dream of owning a boat and managing a fishing business, influenced by his father. Wilton is now one of the few Latino boat captains in California, advancing FarmLink’s goal to support equitable access to ownership and wealth-building opportunities for fishers of color. “I’m living my business dream, and FarmLink helped me get where I want to be, making my transition to boat ownership and business management seamless.”

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