May 3 2016

One North Coast “Hot Crab” Pushes California’s Fishery Officials to Reconsider Opening Protocols

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Seafood News


SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Susan Chambers – April 29, 2016

If anyone has a right to be crabby about the Dungeness crab season in California, it’s the fishermen and processors in Northern California.

Persistent levels of domoic acid in the crab in California delayed the Dungeness and rock crab along the whole coast and have allowed limited, incremental openings of sport and commercial fisheries in certain areas. The industry anxiously awaited word on the last hold-out area, at Trinidad, in Humboldt County, Thursday, but the April 28 test returned one “hot” crab that had levels exceeding 30 ppm.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Pete Kalvass said Thursday the department was going to have internal discussions and solicit feedback from the industry about what, if anything, could be done to open the fishery on the North Coast.

Recreational fisheries are open from Humboldt Bay entrance to the California/Mexico border. Commercial Dungeness fisheries are open from the Mendocino/Sonoma county line south. That leaves three counties, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte, that remain closed to commercial crabbing.

Coincidentally, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-North Coast and chairman of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, held a hearing the same day to get an update on the crab disaster declaration and domic acid ocean conditions.

Mike Lucas, president of North Coast Fishers Inc., was one of the panelists.

“We saw markets disappear,” he said, noting that more localized issues, like crab feeds, also disappeared or were reduced. These are the biggest fundraisers of the year for some organizations, he said. “There have been boats lost, families split, homes lost and communities have suffered,” he said in his written comments.

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations Executive Director Tim Sloane mentioned similar circumstances.

“Two board members tell me they’re getting out of fishing as a direct result of this closure,” he said.

McGuire had proposed forming a shellfish council — similar to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission — to take on some of the marketing and public relations issues that overwhelmed the industry and agencies this year. Panelists generally supported the idea, especially since changing ocean conditions may mean similar upheavals in the progression of the crab season in the future.

“Things are really changing for us,” Sloane said.

And while getting disaster aid and forming a marketing council are good ideas, clear protocols for testing is most important, some of the panelists said. Sloane said written and enforceable protocols for domoic acid testing and management, which include timing, notification procedures and opening protocols, are necessary. Lucas also mentioned the potential for crab quality testing after the Jan. 15 cutoff date should be part of the testing plan. This would ensure the public gets quality crab and the resource isn’t damaged by fishing on crab in softshell conditions, he said.

Some of the other suggestions included:

– Coordinating a media message and engaging all of the state departments and industry in the message to assure the public that crab testing is being done and, once the crab are clear, consumers should have no fear in buying and eating crab;
– Research into whether the 30 ppm threshold is accurate;
– Looking more closely at the 30-day fair start provisions;
– Consider a November-April season, so fishing on softshell crab is avoided.

McGuire said he’d continue to work with state agencies on protocols and would like to get the shellfish council up and running before 2017. In addition, McGuire plans to hold another, shorter hearing in July or August to hear about ocean and industry updates over the summer and a fifth hearing after the season opening in the fall.


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