Last year’s Dungeness crab and Yurok commercial salmon seasons are among nine fisheries named in a disaster declaration U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker issued last month.
The Jan. 19 decision comes after California Gov. Jerry Brown in February 2016 and Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. in July 2016 sent letters to Pritzker’s office outlining the economic impacts of requesting the disaster declaration.
Under the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the U.S. Commerce Secretary can determine a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster. Such a declaration provides a basis for Congress to issue relief money that would provide economic assistance.
The 2015-16 Dungeness crab season in Del Norte and Humboldt counties was delayed about five months due to unsafe levels of domoic acid in the meat and viscera. The commercial season didn’t open until May 12, 2016.
The Dungeness crab fishery reported a loss of $48.3 million statewide, representing 71 percent of the total estimated commercial value for Dungeness crab between Nov. 6, 2015 and June 30, 2016.
In Del Norte County, even though commercial crab fishermen were able to fish this year starting on Dec. 1, 2016, they are still catching up on rent and other bills they were unable to pay due to the delayed 2015-16 season.
The Crescent City Harbor, which gets roughly two cents for every pound of crab brought into the port, also took a hit as a result of last year’s delayed season. Deputy Harbormaster Lane Tavasci told the Triplicate in December that average seasons generate about $48,000 for the harbor. Last year the harbor received less than $22,000, he said.
State Sen. Mike McGuire said he and his colleagues along with Congressman Jared Huffman “pushed hard” to get the federal disaster declared.
“While this is an important first step, we will continue to work with Congress to get that declaration ratified and the relief flowing to thousands of fishermen up and down the state,” he said Wednesday.
On the Klamath River, two years of record-low chinook salmon runs prompted the Yurok Tribe to cancel its commercial fishery in 2016, according to a press release from the tribe. In his letter to Pritzker, O’Rourke said some tribal fishermen faced a complete loss of annual income due to the closure.
Last year was also the first time in 54 years the tribe decided against serving salmon at its annual Salmon Festival.
“You are the key to ensuring that the tribe’s fishermen, who support the tribe’s decision to protect the fishery, are not forced further into financial destitution as a result of their sacrifice,” O’Rourke said in his letter to Pritzker.
According to the tribe, the diminished salmon runs are linked to bad river management decisions, poor ocean conditions and drought.
Ninety-one percent of juvenile chinook salmon sampled in 2015 showed signs of Ceratonova Shasta, a microscopic parasite that causes hemorrhaging and necrosis in the intestines of salmon and trout, according to Yurok Fisheries Manager Dave Hillemeier. Eighty-one percent of juvenile chinook salmon sampled in 2014 showed signs of the pathogen, according to Hillemeier.
The Klamath River dams intensified the effects of the Ceratonova Shasta outbreak, according to the Yurok Tribe’s press release.
The size of the tribe’s commercial salmon catch varies. In 2012 the size of the catch was 83,000, according to Hillemeier. In 2013 it was 52,000 and in 2014 it was 11,800.
Hillemeier added that while the tribe won’t know what the 2017 run will be like for sure until March, preliminary indications are that it will be another low year.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com