CRAB, LIES AND VIDEO TAPE: CALIFORNIA CRAB CRISIS HEATS UP



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Posted by on December 23, 2004 at 17:47:27:

The Dungeness crab season opened along Californiaís north coast and Oregon and Washington (non-Tribal) on 1 December to a glut of production and charges of wanton waste of crab in the southern fishery (Sonoma County, California and south) that opened two weeks earlier. The opening price was $1.50 per pound, ex-vessel, with reports of lower quality crab in Crescent City and north. The quality of crab in the earlier opener was excellent; the crab tend to fill out sooner on the southern end of the range. Good as the quality of the crab was coming out of the Gulf of the Farallones, the markets, as predicted, could not handle the volume of crab produced in the first few days due to the massive number of traps deployed, and this resulted in estimates of as much as 100,000 pounds or more being dumped dead, either off the boats before or during unloading, or at the processing plants the crab were trucked to.

Some of the larger crab buyers who had fought trap limits and encouraged large trawlers to enter the fishery (each using up to 1,000 traps or more), promising to take all the boats could catch, suddenly found themselves unable to handle the volume, telling the boats to stay out fishing -- mopping up the remaining crab -- until they could unload them. The result was disastrous, with crabs dying in the tanks under the weight of the volume, or so weakened they could not survive the trucking from San Francisco to processing plants in Eureka and elsewhere. On the morning of 20 November, at least three large crab boats were believed to have dumped approximately 60,000 pounds of dead crab (Dungeness crab cannot be eaten if they die hours before being cooked). One of these boats, the Bold Contender, was caught on video dumping dead crab. PCFFA also received information from reliable sources that an additional 40,000 pounds or more was dead on arrival at a processing plant in Eureka and had to be dumped.

In a matter of a week most of the harvestable crab in the southern area had been taken, and by the second week of December boats were bringing in their gear, even though the season legally extends through the spring.

Catches of approximately 35 pounds per trap the opening day declined to a 5-pound average per trap within 3 weeks. Had the 250-trap limit fishermen had proposed and the Legislature passed (AB 2146) been signed by the Governor and in place, production of the same volume of crab could have been spread out over 3 to 4 months and provided a good fishery for the local fleet (see Sublegals, 10:08/01, 10:05/01).

At the California Fish & Game Commission meeting of 3 December in Monterey, the video was shown of the dumping. The PCFFA Executive Director asked the Commission to take action either under California Fish & Game Code Sections 7701 and 7704 (to prevent waste) or to support legislation giving the Commission authority to regulate the crab fishery (including imposition of trap limits) short of a full-blown fishery management plan required under the Stateís Marine Life Management Act. PCFFA Board member Larry Collins, as well as other fishermen willing to take the day off from crabbing, testified on the problem, calling for trap limits. Opposition came from John Dooley who claimed the problem was isolated only to the Bold Contender, that he said had tank circulation problems, alleging trap limits were a plot by local fishermen to get better prices for their crab. Rob Ross of the California Fisheries & Seafood Institute, representing some of the larger processors among others, charged that those testifying for limits were engaged in "racketeering." On reply, the PCFFA Executive Director said simply that Mr. Ross was lying, that the dumping was not an isolated incident, and encouraged the Commission to hold a full hearing on the matter. Commissioners promised a hearing in March 2005 to take up the issue. Meanwhile, State Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who had carried the legislation, AB 2146, to impose a 2-year trial trap limit (250 per boat) for the southern fishery and grant the Commission authority to regulate the fishery, sent the Commission a letter offering to work with them this upcoming legislative session on crab issues.

For press coverage, see "Crab fishing 'even more hazardous.' Bodega Bay fishermen say competition from big trawlers creating short, frenzied season," by Carol Benfell in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat at: http://www1.pressdemocrat.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041209/NEWS/412090320/1033/NEWS01; "Crab season has California fishermen calling for change" by Terence Chea, Associated Press in the San Francisco Examiner at: http://www.examiner.com/article/index.cfm/i/112204b_crabseason; "Out-of-state crabbers depleting resources for Bay Area coast boats" by Tom Stienstra in the San Francisco Chronicle at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/12/SPG73AAPVT1.DTL; "Crush of crab boats leads to glut of San Francisco Dungeness" by APís Terrence Chea in the Boston Herald at: http://news.bostonherald.com/national/view.bg?articleid=59244; "Deluge of Dungeness, Bodega Bay off to a good start with bumper crop of crabs" by George Snyder, San Francisco Chronicle at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/12/03/NBG9AA27V51.DTL; "Bay Area crab war reaching boil," by Mary Anne Ostrom in the San Jose Mercury-News at: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/northern_california/10438371.htm; "Dungeness Crab's Popularity Leads To Wasteful Overfishing," from a feature on KTVU Television at: http://www.ktvu.com/news/3990231/detail.html; and the editorial "Local Crabbers Need Legislative Protection," that appeared in the 30 November Oakland Tribune.


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