Crew members of the Little Joe commercial fishing vessel unload crab from the hold on Monday. The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
Among the first crabbing vessels to arrive at the Port of Brookings Harbor Monday afternoon was the Little Joe, with about 10,000 pounds of crab on board.
“Any day crabbing is a good day,” someone commented as the boat sidled up to the dock.
Commercial crabbing season officially began at midnight Monday morning, and dozens of boats took to the placid seas to pull pots that had been placed over the weekend. Seasoned fishermen fought off the pinching crustaceans to unload them into metal bins that were hauled off the boat and into containers to be trucked to Eureka for processing.
The season had been delayed twice — once to Dec. 15 and again to Dec. 31 — to allow crabs to get meatier. Crab fishermen in California have been delayed into January to ensure a better harvest. It’s the first time crabbers from the two states haven’t had the same opening day.
Monday, fishermen on the dock plucked individual crabs from the bins and measured some to make sure they were of legal size — 5 ¾ inches from point to point.
All the crab hauled in from the Little Joe were of legal size, but fishermen said there weren’t as many, nor of great size, at sea.
Exacerbating the challenges crab fishermen face, the state of California last month placed a fishing ban in the Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area in hopes of restoring fish populations. A popular spot called the “mud hole,” where many fishermen get their catches, is also within the protected area. And usually, Dungeness crab are exempt from bans in Marine Protected Areas, said Bernie Lindley, president of the Brookings Fishermen’s Marketing Association.
This year, California implemented bans in 137 square miles of the 1,027 miles in the North Coast region — roughly 13 percent — further limiting where fishermen can go.
An estimated 25 to 30 fishing boats, carrying about 100 pots each, routinely fish the MPA each season. It will likely adversely affect local fishermen who also purchased permits from California.
Fishermen were angered at the announcement, wondering aloud if they were supposed to wait until crabs left the reserve and climbed into pots farther offshore. Some said they netted up to 70 percent of their income from that area and would now have to spend more money to get to areas farther out at sea — and encroach on others in the process.
Ralph Dairy, who typically keeps about 600 pots in that area, calculated what it could mean to the local economy, as well.
“Here’s what it’s worth to our community: for every dollar you bring across the bar, it turns into $7 in our community,” said Ralph Dairy, when the ban was announced. “If I bring in $100,000 worth of crab, that’s $700,000 to our local community. And I’m just one boat.”