The Del Norte Triplicate reports:
July 7, 2016. Last year’s crab season delay had a disastrous impact on our state’s fishing industry, and it wasn’t great news for humpback whales either – California saw a record number of entanglements off the Coast.
Several proactive/short-term measures have been taken by the fishing industry, emergency entanglement teams and the state legislature to address this increasingly common occurrence, state Sen. Mike McGuire said in a press release.
On June 30, Senate Bill 1287, introduced by McGuire, called The Whale Protection & Crab Gear Retrieval Act, which was proactively initiated by California’s Dungeness crab fishermen, received widespread support in the Senate, passing on a 38-0 vote earlier this month, according to McGuire.
Later that week, as the bill continued to progress, it was approved in the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee. With increasing entanglement count, SB 1287 will protect whales from crab gear, the release said.
It’s estimated thousands of crab pots are lost every season and some have hundreds of feet of rope attached to a locater buoy. The lost gear has created marine debris and entanglement hazards for whales and other marine life, along with others in the crab and salmon fleets.
McGuire said the program is a true example of teamwork.
“California crabbers, environmentalists and the state have come together to protect whales and keep our ocean clean of old fishing debris,” McGuire said in the release. “And, it couldn’t come at a more important time. There were a record number of whales entangled off the California Coast last year and the numbers are alarming in the first half of 2016. There’s a simple solution, and we’re working closely with crab fishermen and ocean and marine mammal protection groups to get this bill signed into law.”
According to the release, McGuire also supported a one-time funding allocation of $100,000 from the state’s general fund to assist with emergency disentanglement efforts, supporting a specialized volunteer-based whale disentanglement emergency response team. The team is on-call 24/7 and works to disentangle whales and the group continues to volunteer their time and personal funds to ensure whales are able to swim freely in California waters.
Successful grant funding in past years provided sufficient money for emergency responses in the single-digits. As emergency responses increased, the funding remained the same.
This year’s additional allocation will help achieve the dual-goals of safely disentangling more of the whales and allow for the collection of additional data that can ultimately inform long-term solutions, according to McGuire.
Crab fishermen, including some members of the Crescent City Commercial Fisherman’s Association, continue to take the lead on the whale entanglement issue and many are already taking part in a voluntary pilot project that was initiated two years ago.
Approximately 1,500 lost crab pots have been collected in that program. SB 1287 will build upon the successful pilot project by advancing a statewide solution to the growing problem, the release said.
Based on recommendations from the Dungeness Crab Task Force, SB 1287 will call on the Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish a retrieval program. The entire program will be paid for by industry related fees, not the taxpayers.
Dungeness crab fishermen who obtain a retrieval permit through this program will collect old crab traps after the season has closed each year. Those fishermen will be paid a recovery bounty for each trap retrieved from the ocean.
The bill also establishes a fee to be paid by the owner who lost or abandoned the crab trap. A crab fisherman who doesn’t buy back their lost or abandoned crab traps will not be able to get their vessel permit the next season.
The creation of a self-perpetuating program to recover fishing gear is a necessary action of the commercial Dungeness crab fishing industry to continue operating as a responsible, sustainable fishery, the release said.