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Oregon dungeness crabbers. (Photo: YouTube)

Crab pot limits will change the rules for California fishers

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Monday, December 19, 2011, 22:40 (GMT + 9)

Legislation that sets crab pot limits may soon help fishers in California.

Proponents of Senator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa’s bill say the legislation will lighten competition from large boats and ease the chaos of the season's opening weeks by limiting fishing. Fishers catch most of the Dungeness crab for the entire season during the early days and the season ends in June and the crab pot limit would reduce fishing at the beginning and instead stretch it out throughout the season.

Fishers and experts believe this could help protect the local fishery.

SB 369, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September, sets a tiered limit on the number of pots each fisher can use, from 175 to 500. The number of pots each fisher gets will depend on how many lb of crab they hauled in from 2003-2008, Times-Standard reports.

The law will take effect during the 2012-13 or 2013-14 season.

Proponents say the new rules will slow fishers and most powerfully affect the largest northern boats, some of which carry as many as 1,000-1,500 pots. The change would leave more crab available for smaller operators.

It is not expected that less crab will be caught, however.

Washington and Oregon implemented pot limits in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and catches did not fluctuate. Instead, fishers often became more efficient, catching the same amount of crab while spending less money replacing lost traps, officials said.

Some fishers say the bill could benefit California consumers, as pot limits could increase the amount of fresh local crab available past January, when the local market typically wanes. Now, as more crab is caught early in the season, seafood processors cannot sell them all whole or live and in its place they resort to freezing or canning.

Still, it remains unclear how significant this shift will be. Oregon fishers, for example, still catch about 80 per cent of their crab in the first two months of the season, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife informed.

Steve Hackett, chairman of the business school at Humboldt State, who has studied the Dungeness crab industry at length, thinks SB 369 may not impact the fishery dramatically. 

”The derby aspect is going to be present even when you have trap limits because the abundance of Dungeness crab is highest at the start of the season, so the economic value of a day at sea is higher than a day later in the season,” he told the Times-Standard. “There's still going to be a race for crab, there's still going to be north-south issues, but it's a starting point, and I think it will have moderately beneficial effects.”

By Natalia Real


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