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Posted by on October 03, 2004 at 23:06:34:

“The nation’s most dangerous industry is about to become even more hazardous and I fear we’re going to lose more local fishermen,” said PCFFA President Chuck Wise in California after learning California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to finally put limits on the number of Dungeness traps used by commercial crabbers (see Sublegals, 10:06/01). The bill, AB 2146 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), was requested by crabbers in the “southern” area (Sonoma County south) to put a halt on what they call an “arms build-up” as fishermen are forced to use more and more traps just to stay competitive. Crab fishermen who called for the limits further argued the state could no longer ignore that without some restrictions on the growth in effort on the fragile “southern” fishery there will soon be resource problems. The increasing number of traps being used will, in fact, jeopardize the valuable crab resource over time, according to the bill’s supporters.

To vie for the crab, boats are forced to use more traps, often times more than they can safely carry, just attempting to protect their livelihoods. Vessel casualties, including capsizings and drownings, increase as more gear is used. In the past decade, the number of traps used in the fishery has increased 500 percent even though the number of vessels has remained nearly the same. This has also increased the number of traps that are lost or abandoned.

In his veto, the Governor claimed he wanted there to be an “open hearing” on the trap limits and to give the Fish & Game Commission unfettered control over the fishery. Fishermen supporters of AB 2146 say this is just a delaying tactic, since it may take years for the Commission to act on the issue without the legislation, which did give the Commission authority over the fishery. AB 2146 was developed following extensive discussions among crab fishermen in the affected area (Fish & Game District 10 and south) and had widespread support among local fishermen, and even from crabbers in ports such as Eureka, unaffected by the legislation, where more than 80 vessel owners signed a letter supporting AB 2146. The proposed limit of 250 traps in the bill was a compromise between small and large vessel operators, and is regarded as the number of traps that can be safely operated by a vessel in a normal day of fishing.

“We fully support public hearings, but we already had agreement on what is needed for a trial period. What the Governor was really saying is that we’re going to do nothing and more people are going to die,” said Duncan MacLean, President of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association. “What he’s done is create chaos and waste.”

“I was disheartened to learn that the Governor had vetoed AB 2146, a bill that would help preserve the San Francisco tradition of small, locally owned Dungeness crab fishing businesses," said Assemblyman Leno, whose district includes San Francisco’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf. "This bill would have leveled the playing field by allowing our small Dungeness crab fishing businesses to compete with the large out of state boats."

In a 22 September editorial, the San Francisco Examiner had called on the Governor to sign Assemblyman Leno’s bill, saying, “AB 2146 would go a long way toward ensuring that local fishermen, processors, retailers, restaurants and other businesses can continue to employ their workers and contribute to local economies. And boats from out of state still would be free to fish under the same rules governing locals.” That editorial is at:

“The amount of support for this bill was amazing,” said Wise. “It included the three fishermen’s marketing associations in the area, the City and County of San Francisco, Sonoma County, the San Mateo County Harbor District, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, fish processors such as Morgan Fish Company, restaurants such as Scoma’s, and a number of environmental organizations. We even had support from most of the fleet out of Fort Bragg and Eureka.” Wise, who fishes crab out of Bodega Bay, continued saying, “If the Governor’s office had a problem, if the Commission had a problem, if the Department of Fish & Game had a problem with the legislation they had plenty of time to sit down with us and work out the differences. Instead, they said nothing until we got their veto message. This is a poke in the eye to all those who worked so hard to get this bill through, and a real waste of taxpayer money.”

That sentiment was reflected by San Francisco crab fisherman and Crab Boat Owners Association vice-president Larry Collins, “It is a sad day for the commercial crab fleet when the Governor has acted irresponsibly and dangerously. We’re extremely disappointed.”

“Crab fishermen are no ‘girlie men.’ They encounter extreme danger in the real world, not staged on a movie set. The Coast Guard casualty figures are facts, not scripts,” said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The Governor has to understand we have an increasingly dangerous situation on our hands begging for a solution now. This issue isn’t going to die, although unfortunately some people may, before it’s resolved.”

In addition to creating safer operating conditions for the crab fleet, trap limits were also seen as a means of spreading out production of crab over the season to prevent waste and provide greater consumer access to the fresh product. Trap limits for Dungeness crab are already in place in Alaska and Washington State, and in California’s recreational crab fishery. For more information on AB 2146, contact Assemblyman Mark Leno’s office at (916) 319-2013, or go to the California Legislature’s website at:

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