Dungeness Crab Task Force members call for coastwide season open

Originally published by the Bay City News Service and republished by Kron 4 on Feb. 16.

Members of the state’s Dungeness Crab Task Force are urging state officials to wait before opening the season for commercial crab fishing.

The executive committee members also endorsed an alternative proposal allowing the state to open the commercial crab fisheries by management zone, which in a normal year allows fisheries to open in the southern part of the state before fisheries in the north.

Members made the proposal on Tuesday, asking that officials wait until the crabs are cleared for human consumption along the entire coast. 

The commercial crab season has been stalled since public health officials determined the crabs had high levels of domoic acid which is a neurotoxin.

In the meantime, legislators are working on a bill to get federal relief for those who work in the industry.

The teleconference meeting today was, among other things, an attempt to assess committee members’ attitudes about whether to open the commercial fishing areas south of Point Reyes, where toxicity levels found in the crabs are safe for human consumption. The traditional southern management zone begins near Point Arena at the border of Sonoma and Mendocino counties and extends all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico, though crabs are not traditionally found south of Morrow Bay, said Pete Kalvass of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Splitting the management zone in two is a problem because it would increase the concentration of fisheries operating in a smaller geographic area, said Bill Carvalho, a committee member and president of Wild Planet Foods.

“That would make the fisheries unprofitable for many – or at least less profitable – because all of the crabs would be pounced on and caught in such a short time,” Carvalho said in a separate interview. “Then the entire fleet would conceivably do the exact same thing again in the northern part of the coast.”

Larry Collins, a committee member and commercial crab fisher, expressed concern that the over-concentration of crab traps would lead to the traps entangling with each other, which poses a risk to migrating whales.

Other committee members were worried about crabs migrating to Point Reyes from areas as close as Bodega Bay, where crabs have not been deemed safe. There were also concerns about the public perception of the crabs if the
entire coast isn’t cleared for human consumption, potentially reducing the demand and therefore the value of the crabs.

“All it takes is one person getting sick,” said fisherman Jeremy Dirks. “The crabs don’t distinguish between lines, they go wherever they please.”

Still, commercial crab fishermen along the southern part of the coast said they were being singled out and were struggling to keep up with mortgages on their houses and boats without the opportunity to fish.

“Everyone is hurting,” Carvalho said. “Everyone wants to go fishing.”

The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday opened up to the coast south of Point Reyes to recreational crab fishing. The department is expected to make a decision within the next several days about whether to allow commercial fishing along part of the coastline, or whether it will wait to lift the ban until crabs along the entire coast are deemed safe for consumption.

Governor Jerry Brown last week sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker asking her to declare a disaster and a commercial fishery failure for the state’s $90 million crab fishing industry. The delay has already cost the California economy more than $48 million, according to Brown.

Congressional legislators are already working on a bill that would distribute economic relief funds should Congress approve the declaration, which would make the state’s crab fishing industry eligible for federal economic assistance.

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