Dungeness relief payouts imminent

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Disaster relief money to compensate fishermen for the severely delayed 2015 to 2016 Dungeness crab season will finally be delivered to the North Coast on June 1. 

The majority of $25 million in crab disaster relief funding will be used for payments to participants in the state’s Dungeness crab fishery. Most of the amount will be split between fishermen and buyers and processors, with commercial passenger vessel operators getting a small share. 

Payouts to fishermen from a $14.1 million share of relief money will be scaled according to the size of each crabbing permit. Permits are tiered according to numbers of crab traps. There are seven tiers and permit holders at the highest level of 500 traps will get relief payments of $42,680 per permit while those at the lowest permit level of 175 traps or less will be paid about $15,000. 

The long-awaited relief is coming as the Dungeness fishery bears another impact – this year’s season closed on April 15, three months early, in accordance with the state’s lawsuit settlement to protect whales from entanglements in crab gear. 

“Any payment is much appreciated right now, especially since our season has been cut short abruptly,” said Harrison Ibach, the president of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association. “Everything helps – for some, it might not nearly be enough and for others it’ll help immensely.” 

Fishermen “that truly rely on the spring Dungeness crab fishery for survival ”are struggling the most, he continued. “They have built their business plan around it, so those guys who fish all the way to the end are really going to get hit hard with this abrupt closure.” 

The disaster was caused by algae blooms and the related presence of the domoic acid toxin. Crabs didn’t test clear of it until several months after the season’s scheduled start. 

Eligibility standards for the relief are based on permit ownership and having had crab landings in any of the three season preceding the disaster or the two seasons following it. 

There are about 550 Dungeness crab permit holders in the state and Christy Juhasz, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Dungeness specialist, said that most of them will be eligible for relief payments. 

She said relief funding will help but “in no way is supposed to make anyone whole.” 

The disaster season’s delay eliminated peak market opportunity. “The main concern was that people lost this fishing opportunity during the scheduled time of the year that usually goes into the holiday markets,” Juhasz said. 

An allowance for permit holders who decided not to participate in the season accounts for that. “I heard one fishermen say that he had participated in the fishery for over 40 years and then had to take a job elsewhere to finally make ends  meet, based on the length of the delay,” Juhasz said.

Relief funding also includes $2.6 million for research on domoic acid, much of it for reducing future impacts and improving the state Department of Public Health’s ability to process crab samples for the toxin. 

About $4 million in additional disaster relief is for the 2015 Yurok tribal salmon fishery, which was seriously impacted by water flow issues and parasitic disease. 

Salmon abundance is improving now, however. The North Coast’s upcoming commercial Chinook salmon season offers more fishing time, particularly in the crucial summer months which were partially or fully closed in the recent past. 

Ibach said that together with the relief payments, the favorable salmon season will give area fishermen a chance to rebound. 

“The opportunity is going to help,” he said. “The fact that there’s a very long season and a lot of opportunity for fishermen helps immensely.” 

He added that there will be “a very large effort shift into the salmon fishery because of the crab closure” and participation will include “a lot of fishermen who have not fished for salmon in a very long time – or have never fished for salmon – that are going to go salmon fishing this year.”



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