Dungeness crab fishermen unite during uncertain times

Commercial fishermen from the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association, the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association and the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association, have come together to broker an agreement that will ensure a safe and orderly start to the commercial Dungeness Crab season in California, once price negotiations are settled. Local groups are coordinating with all California ports, but focusing on a plan for the Central California/Bay Area region (also known as District 10 and the Monterey Bay Area for Crab management).

So much of 2020 has been unprecedented and uncertain, and the Dungeness Crab season is no exception. As the New Year approaches and vessels remain tied to the docks without a fair price established and no clear date for when it will be, businesses are struggling to plan. Fishermen fear that the season they long to open may do so not only at a historically low price, but amidst chaos and danger.

So, with an extraordinary level of unity among a traditionally diverse fleet, an agreement has been reached to mitigate at least some uncertainty, and to reduce the damages and dangers that can follow what fishermen call a “shotgun start.” A shotgun start is a scenario when a price agreement and fishing beginning in another region is equivalent to a gun going off in a race. This results in local vessels heavily loaded with gear being forced to scatter and run out to sea on as little as an hour’s notice in sometimes dangerous conditions.

Price negotiations are ongoing, and California, including local port representatives, continue to participate in the process although little progress has been made to date. One thing California ports can make progress on is their commitment to remaining united and to a fair, orderly and safe start to the season.

The Bodega Bay fleet is part of the group of commercial fishermen in District 10 who have rejected a Shotgun Start to the Dungeness crab season. Jason Windsor photo.
The Bodega Bay fleet is part of the group of commercial fishermen in District 10 who have rejected a Shotgun Start to the Dungeness crab season. Jason Windsor photo.

To this end, fishermen fishing in Central California’s District 10 and the Santa Cruz/Monterey area (SF Bay Area) have come to a gentleman’s agreement to reject a “shotgun start” out of local ports. Instead there will be a meeting held within 24 hours of the Oregon fleet beginning to fish. This will allow time for a safe and orderly start and organizers are confident that fishermen will honor this agreement for the good of the fleet. The plan is for gear to be set 2 days after the meeting, and for local crabs to be available in the bay area a few days after that.

Waiting for a “shotgun” to go off at any moment is mentally draining and logistically challenging for captains and crew. Local vessels as well as traveling vessels from other ports have many crew members and captains that live outside of the Bay Area, but they have been unable to go home in case the season starts on a moment’s notice.

Fishermen are missing family time to sit at the dock “just in case” rather than spending valuable time at home prior to the hard work and time away they will face on the water once the season finally opens.

Knowing there will be enough notice to go home and get back to the boats in time for fishing will allow all fishermen more time with their families, and will also allow planning for the shoreside businesses, markets and communities that support them. Consumers will also be able to prepare to enjoy beautiful, local, sweet Dungeness Crab that are ripe for harvest.

This historical agreement allows at least some certainty that fishermen won’t have to endure a “shotgun start” in notoriously dangerous winter weather conditions on top of all of the other challenges that the 2020 season has brought to bear.

While nothing about this season has been ideal, these challenges have resulted in fleet unity in each port and among ports that many feel is stronger than ever. Knowing that there is a plan for some order among the unknown is giving fishermen at least a little hope, and maybe a moment to breathe while waiting for the season to finally get going. The fleet appreciates the support of local markets and consumers and looks forward to providing amazing high-quality delicious crab as soon as they can.

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