Recovering Crab Season May be too Late for Crabbers

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A joint fisheries committee got an update on the effects of the domoic acid contamination and its effects on the Dungeness crab fishery and it wasn't good.

This is the latest the crab season has been delayed, caused by the presence of the toxin produced by an unusual warm-temperature algae bloom on waters off the West Coast.

"We've never seen anything like this, at least in modern history," said committee co-chair Senator Mike McGuire of Eureka.

While crab fishing bans in certain areas are slowly being lifted, the damage to crabbers may be irreversible.

"We've lost the holidays, the Super Bowl, the beginning of Chinese New Year holiday, which has become a big crab buying holiday, and there's no way we can really recoup," said crab fisherman Ben Pratt who fishes out of Half Moon Bay.

Many crabbers augment their income by fishing for salmon later in the season, but Fish and Wildlife Director Charleton Bonham told committee members that the drought has made the commercial outlook for salmon fishing dismal.

Fishing families testified that many crabbers are in danger of losing their homes, their boats and must rely on food banks for groceries.

"It's kind of bull---- that people whose job it is to provide food have to ask for food," said Lori French, whose husband, son and nephew are all crab fishermen.

Fishers say they are encouraged by Gov. Jerry Brown's letter to the federal government asking them to declare a fisheries disaster -- enabling crabbers to get federal aid.

But everyone acknowledges that is a long process that may not yield federal money, which Congress has to approve. Much will depend on the lobbying prowess of the California congressional delegation.