For the last several years California's Dungeness fleet has been trapped between domoic acid delays, slow meat fill, and accusations of whale entanglements that shortened their season on one end or the other (or both, as was the case last year).
Negotiations last week had the start set for Saturday, Nov. 23. That would mean the fleet could drop pots on the 22nd. But it would also put a serious crunch on the Thanksgiving market, which is the most lucrative time of year for the fleet.
Fleet representatives voiced those concerns to Charlton Bonham, director of California's Department of Fish and Wildlife, and won a one-day reprieve to drop pots on the 21st and start the season officially on Nov. 22 for Bodega Bay and points south.
"Losing a week means losing millions of dollars at a key time for the market," said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "But the risks baked into the operation of this season under the settlement, not to mention the political risks and the attention focused on this decision, mean the Working Group and fishery managers had to thread a needle. I think we succeeded this time."
Bodega Bay fisherman and NF Highliner Dick Ogg participated in aerial surveys in late October that showed whales and turtles off the coast and led to a delay from the projected Nov. 15 start.
"It was a difficult decision, but it shows we’re all in this together," said Ogg, who is being recognized this year in part for being a founding member of the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group that has worked for years to minimize the fleet's interactions with marine mammals.
With meat fill looking good, fishermen hope the weather holds for the opener.
California's north coast up through Oregon and Washington is managed separately by the Tri-State Dungeness Crab Committee through the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and typically begins in December.