Timely start for crab fishermen

DUNGENESS DELICACIES At Cap’n Zack’s Crab House in McKinleyville, employees Rucker Davis and Dewayne Dickey cook up freshly-caught Dungeness crab. Crabbing is a multi-million dollar industry in Humboldt County. In 2014, the harvest was valued at $6.1 million. In 2013, an unusually bountiful year, the harvest valued was pegged at $30.5 million. Photo by Deborah Ketelsen

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The North Coast’s Dungeness crab season has started, although rough seas and the nagging presence of domoic acid in the Fort Bragg area have limited fishing options.

After a mid-November opening in the San Francisco Bay central region, crabbing in the northern region began Dec. 1. It’s a welcome change from last year, when the northern opener was delayed to mid-May due to toxic algal blooms.

But the domoic acid toxin is still in the mix – a 70-mile segment of the north region, from the Salt Point area to the entrance of Humboldt Bay, remained closed due to some crab samples exceeding a safety threshold for the toxin.

The closed area was originally 120 miles, stretching from Point Reyes to Humboldt Bay, but at press time, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that a 50-mile segment from Point Reyes to Salt Point would be opened on Dec. 3.

The closures were called due to some crab samples exceeding a safety threshold for the toxin. According to a Dec. 1 fish and wildlife press release, “The closed portions of the coast may open once testing by state agencies shows that the area is safe with regard to domoic acid levels.”

Crabs are showing robust meat-to-shell ratios, however, and the high quality combined with the reduced fishing area and strong swells led Eureka crabbers to consider negotiating for higher prices from buyers.

The crab fleets in Trinidad and Crescent City didn’t support that strategy, however, and fishing began with an out-of-the-gate ex-vessel price of $3 per pound.

On Dec. 1, the first day that crab pots were allowed to be pulled, rough seas interfered with fishing. In Eureka, boats weren’t able to get out of the bay and in areas north, trap buoys were pulled underwater by strong currents.

“The current is really bad,” said Trinidad-based crabber Zach Rotwein on the first day of the season. “The (crab) pots are out but they’re hard to pull because of the current.”

Some landings were made north of Eureka and Rotwein said that based on early results, he’s expecting “a fairly decent season.”

The $3 per pound opening price is “really fair,” said Rotwein, and could rise if domoic acid-induced closures continue in Oregon and Washington.

“I’d expect to see supply and demand kick in,” he continued.

The remaining vestiges of domoic acid are believed to be phasing out. After two years of being influenced by a warm water El Niño pattern, ocean conditions are changing and trending toward cooler water temperatures.



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