A buoy failure off the coast of Half Moon Bay threatens the safety of commercial and recreational fishermen as well as other vessels during the more dangerous winter season, fishermen say.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Buoy Station 46012 ceased transmitting data on May 8 and has not yet been repaired. Annual maintenance for buoys and Coastal-Marine Automated Network weather stations remains deferred until further notice.
These stations and buoys transmit essential hour-by-hour weather data that allows fishermen to determine when it is safe to leave the harbor and when conditions are too hazardous.
“These buoys send information on water temperature, air temperature, swell, wind and waves,” said Tom Mattusch, captain of the fishing boat the Huli Cat. “Mariners depend on this information.” With the closest two buoys sitting in the San Francisco Bay to the north and in the Monterey Bay to the south, this buoy failure creates about a 50-mile gap in information transmission.
Mattusch attributes the cessation of maintenance to the 2013 federal sequester, which mandated across-the-board budget cuts to defense and domestic programs. He says the threat to Coastside fishermen illustrates how the widely criticized federal legislation distinctly impacts locals.
Mattusch has contacted federal officials, including Helmut H. Portmann of the National Buoy Data Center and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to demand action.
Shannon McArthur, program manager of the NOAA National Data Buoy Center, said that, while maintenance is deferred until further notice, the issue will be addressed, “next fiscal year pending adequate funding.” McArthur did not know if the budget for the Buoy Center is expected to be larger next year.
With the multimillion-dollar Dungeness crab season rapidly approaching, Mattusch contends that many fishermen will still choose to go out despite the dangers posed by inadequate information on sea conditions.
“Eighty percent of crab comes in the first two weeks, so people are going to fish in that period no matter what,” said Mattusch. He added that the lack of weather information would be an issue particularly for those crews and individuals that lack other sources of information on dangerous conditions.
Mattusch likened fishing without essential information to a roll of the dice. “When it’s a man’s livelihood, he’s going to go out, but at what cost to human life,” he said.