With the closure of all commercial Dungeness crab fisheries statewide, the San Mateo County Harbor District board waived slip fees for its 39 permitted commercial crab fishermen who operate out of Pillar Point Harbor on the coast.
The cost to the district to waive one month’s fee will range from just over $9,000 to a little more than $22,000, according to a report by the district’s General Manager Steve McGrath.
The board voted 3-0 at its Wednesday, Feb. 17, meeting to approve the item with board President Tom Mattusch and Commissioner Pietro Parravano recusing themselves from the vote.
The fishermen, however, would have to repay the waived fees if federal disaster relief becomes available.
Gov. Jerry Brown has requested the U.S. Department of Commerce to declare a fishery resource disaster so that “fishing communities affected by the closure may receive essential economic assistance.”
Slip fees range in cost from $232 to $567 per month.
The recreational crab season, however, has opened in portions of the state including locally.
Commissioner Sabrina Brennan wanted to extend the fee waivers to charter boat operators as well and to extend it to three months rather than one.
But fellow commissioners Virginia Chang Kiraly and Robert Bernardo opposed the idea.
Chang Kiraly, vice president of the board, presided over the meeting since Mattusch recused himself.
“I’m afraid we might lose some of our local fishing businesses. Fishing is what attracts people to Pillar Point Harbor. Commercial and recreational fishing is important to county’s economy. This has been so bad, its really worrisome our fishing fleet might not survive it,” Brennan said, according to a video of the meeting.
She wanted to extend the waiver to charter boat operators, such as Mattusch who operates the Huli Cat, because they too have suffered financial hardship.
She also said the harbor’s three fish buyers should have their fees waived too.
But Bernardo said three months was too much time since staff only recommended one month. Slip fees have been waived at other harbors in Bodega Bay and San Francisco for up to three months. Other harbors, such as Santa Barbara, Trinidad and Santa Cruz have taken no action on the fee waivers, although Santa Cruz has refunded crab storage fees. The Berkeley Marina, Eureka and Morro Bay have also taken no action to waive any fees.
Although Brennan voted to approve the fee waiver, she did so reluctantly.
“I have no choice but to vote for the motion but I’m voting for the motion in protest because I feel strongly that we aren’t doing enough. And I’m disappointed in my fellow board members in not seeing how critical the situation is and not being willing and not being able to find it your heart to do more to help our fleet,” Brennan said at the meeting.
Bernardo, however, said the board could extend the fee waiver by more months if necessary at a later meeting.
Chang Kiraly said it was a matter of balancing the district’s non-enterprise and enterprise activities since taxpayers subsidize half of the district’s budget.
“Taxpayer money should be supporting non-enterprise activities,” Chang Kiraly said.
Since the district makes money off renting slips at Pillar Point and Oyster Point marinas, the activity is considered enterprise.
At the same meeting, Mattusch appointed himself and Brennan to sit on the Oyster Point Marina subcommittee. The district operates the marina under a joint powers agreement with South San Francisco.
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This story has been modified from its original version.