Commercial crab season opener delayed

Postponed to lower risk to whales

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Gaba Stauffer, a game warden with California Fish and Wildlife, measures crab to make sure it is at least 5 ¾ inches across. Saturday marked the opening of sport crab fishing season in waters off Half Moon Bay. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

By mid-morning Saturday, trucks hauling boat trailers were lined up and down Highway 1 by the entrance of Pillar Point Harbor. It was a warm, sunny day with near-perfect water conditions to mark the opening of recreational Dungeness crab season. 

Some eager hobby fishermen were lowering their pots in the water before dawn and returning to shore before lunch with coolers filled to the brim with their limit of crab. 

While local and visiting crabbers flocked to the harbor in Princeton over the weekend, commercial fishermen will be waiting another few weeks in response to a legal settlement. 

“It’s a challenging situation,” said San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Tom Mattusch, who runs a boat charter business. “It’s good for the recreational crabbers because, with the delay, it puts a lot less pressure on the fishery. But it’s bad for the commercial fishermen.” 

On Friday, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham announced the start of commercial Dungeness crab season would be postponed for eight days to mitigate the risk of whale entanglements in fishing gear. The new opening day for the commercial season: Nov. 22. 

A 2017 lawsuit filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity against the Department of Fish and Wildlife required the state to mitigate the risk of entanglement of marine mammals. That ended Dungeness crab season three months early this past season, on April 15.

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Game warden Justin Demaine checks a sport fishing boat to make sure it is compliant with state regulations on Saturday, the opening of recreational crab season. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

Additionally, last year’s Senate Bill 1309 addressed a number of issues with the fishery. It revised the Dungeness crab trap retrieval program and required the Dungeness Crab Working Group to evaluate risks of marine life entanglements. 

Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association Noah Oppenheim said the later opening date for commercial fishermen constrains the holiday market, causing some concern for Bay Area fishermen. 

“There is certainly less product with fewer fishing days, but there will still be crab for Thanksgiving,” he said. 

Oppenheim is a member of the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, which is made up of fishermen, scientists and conservationists, established in 2015 to reduce whale entanglements in fishing gear. He said he does not think this season’s delay creates a precedent. 

“The role of the working group is to, by using the best science available, make the best recommendation,” he explained. “There is a high demand and, of course, if we had an extra week of fishing you could expect more product available. The weather conditions are uncertain at this point, so it’s just a waiting game until the opener.” 

Meanwhile, the California Department of Public Health is warning people not to consume the internal organs or guts of crab caught in certain coastal areas due to the presence of domoic acid. The warning is effective for state waters from Shelter Cove in Humboldt County to Point Arena in Mendocino County and from Point Reyes in Marin County south to Pillar Point in San Mateo County.

Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by naturally occurring marine algae. If consumed, domoic acid can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness and, in more extreme cases, short-term memory loss, seizures and death. The state’s Health Department recommends eviscerating any crab caught in these regions prior to cooking. 

To check the latest crab test results for domoic acid visit: cdph.ca.gov.

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