Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Wiggins bill seeks to address problems in crab fishing industry

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife voted 9-0 Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 1690, legislation by State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) designed to address problems in the commercial crab fishing industry.


“The Dungeness crab fishery is one of the most high-volume and profitable fisheries off the West Coast,” Wiggins said in her testimony before the committee today. “However, the Dungeness crab fishery experiences ‘derby dynamics,’ where fishermen race to compete for the valuable catch at the start of the season.


“This ‘race for crab’ leads to safety concerns for the fishermen, wasted effort and inefficient fishing, supply gluts and crab waste, and lost gear in the water,” she added. “SB 1690 seeks to address these issues by bringing together fishermen from California’s eight crab ports to develop sustainable fishery policies.”


Dungeness crab is caught almost exclusively by “pot gear” in both state and federal waters. There is no federal fishery management plan. The state legislatures have authority over the fishery in each of the three states, although both Washington and Oregon have provided for many management decisions about time, place and conduct of the fishery to be made within the resource agencies or administrative bodies.


Dungeness crab management has historically revolved on the “3-S” principle – sex, size, and season. The size and sex restrictions protect egg-bearing females and allow mature male crabs a few seasons to mate. Seasonal closures are timed generally just after adult male annual molting to avoid catching soft-shelled crabs with low meat quality.


All three states enacted restricted entry programs in 1995. California has the largest number of crab vessel permits: A total of 602 were issued for the 2006-07 season, 84 of which were issued as non-resident permits for boats from out of state.


“Given the complexity of the fishery and its management structure, as well as a sense of urgency to slow the race for crab, a comprehensive approach to effective management reform requires attention to the short-term and longer-term institutions and process,” Wiggins said.


Her bill, SB 1690, would establish an advisory committee comprised of commercial crab fishermen to work with the California Department of Fish and Game, and the Ocean Protection Council, on recommendations to address management issues in commercial crab fishing, such as catch and “pot” limits, fishery permit limits and season opening dates.


“This bill is sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund, which worked with fishermen throughout the state to craft a fair and representative process to develop policy recommendations,” Wiggins said.


Now that SB 1690 has been approved by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, it next heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further review.


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