Reps. Huffman, Speier, Farr, and Capps Urge Gov. Brown to Stand Ready to Declare a Fishery Disaster for the Dungeness Crab Fishery

November 24, 2015

            WASHINGTON, D.C.— California Reps. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), Sam Farr (D-Monterey), and Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown today urging him to monitor the levels of domoic acid in the Dungeness crab closely and to stand ready to ask the Secretary of Commerce to declare a disaster if the fishery is closed for the season. The coastal legislators raised concerns about the high levels of domoic acid linked to a toxic algal bloom found along the West Coast, stretching from central California to the Alaska Peninsula, which have caused delays in the opening of the recreational and commercial seasons.

 The Dungeness crab fishery was valued at $60 million last year for California. A closure of the Dungeness crab commercial fishery would impact coastal communities in Central and Northern California, as well as the state economy.

 “The closure of the Dungeness crab fishery would not only make the holidays a little less bright, it would deal a hard blow for North coast fishermen, who have already been impacted by a poor year for salmon landings,” Huffman said. “While Californians’ Thanksgiving celebrations may not feature Dungeness crab this year, we can at least provide the assurance that federal disaster relief will be available to fishermen and affected communities and businesses if we lose the fishery.  We are keeping our fingers crossed for improved conditions next month, but in the meantime we will be working closely with our state and federal partners—from the Governor’s office to the White House—so that we can respond quickly in the event of a total closure.”

 “I, along with thousands of Californians, will miss eating Dungeness crab this Thanksgiving, but it’s the fishermen who are paying the real price for the closure of the crab season,” Speier said. “After being financially punished by a dismal salmon season this year, these same fishermen are now looking at no income from crab – traditionally 50 percent of their income – yet having to pay for their licenses and boat maintenance. If the season doesn’t open soon, these men and women deserve a financial lifeline. I urge the governor to start preparing for a disaster declaration now.”

 A PDF of the letter is here and the text can be found below:

 Dear Governor Brown,

 We write to express our concern about the high levels of domoic acid in Dungeness crab, which is linked to a massive toxic bloom of the marine diatom Pseudo-nitzschia. The elevated levels of domoic acid have caused delays in the opening of the 2015/2016 recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fishing seasons. While we are hopeful that the situation will turn around and the fisheries can be opened safely and promptly, we remain concerned about the economic consequences of a fishery closure. So that state and federal resources can be brought to bear at the earliest opportunity, we urge you to dedicate adequate resources to monitor the situation closely and to stand ready to ask the Secretary of Commerce to declare a fishery disaster through NOAA Fisheries if the commercial fishery must be closed for the 2015/2016 season.

 The bloom is the largest and longest-lasting in at least 15 years, and concentrations of domoic acid in seawater, some forage fish, and crab samples have been among the highest ever reported for this region. In mid-May, domoic acid concentrations in Monterey Bay, California were 10 to 30 times the level that would be considered high for a normal Pseudo-nitzschia bloom. We understand that state and federal agencies are monitoring the situation and are providing frequent updates and test results from samples collected off of the coasts from Santa Barbara to Crescent City.

 The commercial Dungeness crab fishery is crucial to the economies of Central and North Coast communities and to the overall state economy. Last year, commercial Dungeness crab harvests in California were valued at $60 million. A closure of this fishery would be devastating for fishermen, who have already been impacted by a poor salmon season this year, which yielded just one third of the average harvest.

 We thank you for monitoring the situation and urge you to be prepared to immediately ask for the Secretary of Commerce to declare a fishery disaster in the event of continued closures so that state and federal resources can be quickly mobilized.