Fishermen in the Half Moon Bay area are frustrated and anxious to start Dungeness crab fishing season after California postponed the start from Nov. 15 to Dec. 1 due to 50 humpback whales off the coast.
The postponed crab season is meant to protect whales and sea turtles from becoming entangled or captured in fishing gear. The protected crab fishing zones run from Mendocino County down to Mexico.
Scott Edson, a fisherman who fishes in Bodega Bay and Half Moon Bay, said the delays are becoming the norm every year. He used to go out in November, but he now wonders if he will ever go crab fishing before Thanksgiving. One of his biggest concerns is the weather now that they will start in December. Bad weather leads to an increased risk of rolling the boat over, putting a crew and boat in danger. The local boats in his area are smaller, and they struggle to compete with large companies and other boats from Eureka and Washington.
“It’s definitely difficult the later and later it goes. The weather gets so much worse. It just gets dicey being out there. We’re holding out hope it will be Dec. 1,” Edson said. “There’s a point where you can do the job, but it becomes really dangerous to do, and you have to call it.”
The regulations and increased competition have made it harder for Edson to make a living. He is considering turning crab fishing into something he does in the winter for fun without the pressure of having to make money. He blames the shipping industry for the harm to whales and said most fishermen like him rarely trap whales. The regulations and delays make him feel his livelihood is at the whim and mercy of people and organizations who don’t appreciate the dangers and stress a later start season puts on the small fishermen. He has seen a lot of crab permits for sale as people begin leaving the industry.
“If something doesn’t change, I’m not sure how long this industry can survive,” Edson said.
Edson expects to be out on the water fishing for about 10 to 16 weeks competing against others. He usually catches around 20,000 pounds of crab, which he expects to sell for around $3 a pound this year. He expects it to be an OK season, similar to last year. He spends his winter crab fishing and summer salmon fishing. Most fishermen rely on both to support them throughout the year, as neither season is enough to make a living. Edson said salmon demand was high this year due to COVID-19, as salmon and other meat shortages caused prices to increase. He hopes the market extends into crab season.
Half Moon Bay fisherman Frank Sousa also does crab fishing for two or three months in Half Moon Bay and is now worried California might push the new season to Dec. 15. He doesn’t know what his season will be like or how much he will catch this year, but he is worried about the delays and the restrictive regulations on crab fisherman.
“Yes, we’ve been waiting. It’s shut us down, and we are unable to work right now, so everybody is champing at the bit, but we’ve got to wait for the whales,” Sousa said.
He had a good season last year, even with all the issues and delays, and is hopeful for a similar season. While he doesn’t know his catch potential yet, he wants lots of small crabs instead of large crabs because small crabs indicate they are competing for food, and there are more around. He is worried about the price per pound this year because there is not much demand from restaurants due to the pandemic. Many restaurants are closed or not operating at capacity, and lots of crab from last season is still sitting in freezers unused.
Sousa said planes would do flyovers around Nov. 14 to look for whales and bring the data back to working groups to determine if there will be another delay. Despite all the problems and delays, Sousa said fisherman are doing their part and have outfitted their boats with the best equipment to ensure they don’t catch and hurt whales. Despite their efforts, he is worried the delays will hurt them in the long term.
“We’re just kind of under attack right now,” he said.
While California has delayed commercial crab fishing, recreational crab season for the public began Nov. 7 at places like the Pacifica Municipal Pier. A fishing license is not required to fish at the pier, although there are social distancing and mask restrictions.
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