State Seeks Federal Disaster Declarations for Commercial Crab Fishing

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. today requested federal declarations of a fishery disaster and a commercial fishery failure in response to the continued presence of unsafe levels of domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin, in Dungeness and rock crab fisheries across California and the corresponding closures of those fisheries.

“Crabs are a vital component of California’s natural resources and provide significant aesthetic, recreational, commercial, cultural and economic benefits to our state,” Governor Brown said in the letter to Secretary Pritzker. “Economic assistance will be critical for the well-being of our fishing industry and our state.”

In early November 2015, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), in consultation with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), recommended a closure based on unsafe levels of domoic acid found in crab tissue that was likely to pose a human health risk. Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates. At high levels, it can cause persistent short-term memory loss, seizures and death. At low levels, domoic acid can cause nausea, diarrhea and dizziness.

In response to the health and safety risk, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the California Fish and Game Commission took emergency regulatory action to delay the commercial and recreational fisheries for Dungeness crab and close the commercial and recreational fisheries for rock crab north of the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line. CDFW and the Ocean Protection Council, within the California Natural Resources Agency, have continued to work closely with the Dungeness Crab Task Force in seeking advice from fishing representatives.

CDFW has continued to vigilantly monitor the health risks in coordination with OEHHA, CDPH and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Domoic acid levels have remained at unsafe levels in California fisheries and it remains unclear when it will be safe to reopen these fisheries. The Dungeness crab industry alone is one of the highest valued commercial fisheries in California with a value of up to $90 million a year.

“The federal declaration of a commercial fishery failure will help hardworking Californians who have lost their livelihood to this natural disaster to receive vital economic assistance,” said Charlton H. Bonham, Director of CDFW. “We remain committed to doing everything we can for the affected fishing families and businesses–and communities that depend upon them–across every sector of the crab industry.”

In December 2015, Director Bonham told a Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture that the department was building a case for federal assistance. In January 2016, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci wrote Tanya Garfield, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Director of Disaster Field Operations Center requesting that 15 California counties affected by the crab closure be declared a disaster area to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program assistance to impacted businesses.

The Governor’s request to the Secretary of Commerce initiates the evaluation of a federal fishery resource disaster under the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986 and a commercial fishery failure under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. Should a determination be made to declare a disaster and failure, this enables state and federal agencies to work together to determine the full economic impact of the disaster and to provide economic relief to affected crabbers and related businesses.

“CDFW remains committed to working with federal officials to complete the required review for a fishery resource disaster declaration and a commercial fishery failure declaration,” Bonham said.

For more information on the state’s ongoing responses to the health and safety issues posed by high domoic acid levels in California crab fisheries please visit www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/pages/fdbdomoicacidinfo.aspx.

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Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937