Legislation targets ‘emergency’ permits
During the 2011–2012 Dungeness crab season, Crescent City Harbor’s local fleet of commercial crab vessels competed with massive out-of-town boats that had snagged temporary permits for the season through emergency transfers.
A bill authored by North Coast Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro that would put tighter restrictions on emergency transfers of crab permits awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. Chesbro is urging Brown to sign the bill, which would take effect immediately, before the start of this year’s crab season.
The temporary permits leased to large vessels were transferred from boats seriously damaged, lost or destroyed in the March 2011 tsunami, without the standard reams of paperwork required for permit transfers. The clause was in place to prevent fishermen from missing out on the lucrative crab season in the wake of a mechanical failure or natural disaster.
When high-capacity vessels cruised to Crescent City packed to the brim with hundreds of crab traps, North Coast fishermen cried foul that the emergency transfer clause was being abused.
Without any restrictions on the size of the boat that the permit was transferred to, some 30- to 40-foot vessels battered by the tsunami transferred their permits to boats over 80 feet long. Even worse, fishermen contended, was that some of the boats leasing their permits to 80-plus-foot vessels hadn’t been actively fishing for crab in recent years.
“It affected the local fleet last year tremendously,” said Rick Shepherd, owner of the Crescent City-based F/V Sunset. While the vessels in the local fleet could only crab in very good weather, the larger boats could “fish in all kinds of weather,” and since the out-of-towners could hold many more crab traps, “the catch potential was huge,” he said. “It changed the whole dynamic of the fishery.”
Chesbro’s bill would limit emergency transfers to boats within 10 feet of the length of the original boat holding the permit. Additionally, in order to be eligible to transfer a permit, a vessel must have landed at least 5,000 pounds of crab cumulatively in the last two seasons.
“The main ‘fix’ in this bill is to prevent a repeat of last season when large crab boats from out of state took unfair advantage of the devastation in Crescent City Harbor caused by the March 2011 tsunami,” Chesbro said in a statement. “A number of boats damaged or destroyed had crab permits that had no or few crab landings in recent seasons. These permits were able to be transferred to much larger boats from other states, which disproportionately competed with California crab boats for the California Dungeness harvest.”
Chesbro’s bill unanimously passed both the Assembly and the Senate with bipartisan support.
The bill, however, does not prevent the director of the Department of Fish and Game from granting six-month extensions to the vessels that held the transferred permits last season.
The outcry from North Coast fishermen last year might prevent the director from extending the permits, but Shepherd, the local vessel-owner, isn’t so sure.
“He allowed it last year so he might allow it again this year,” he said.
Shepherd doesn’t think that the emergency transfer clause should continue to be applicable for a tsunami that occurred 18 months ago.
“If they were true commercial fishermen they would have something in place by now,” he said.
Some commercial crab fishermen are writing letters to the director urging him to not extend the emergency transfer permits.