The docks at Bodega Bay were quiet this week, with stormy weather keeping many Dungeness crab fishermen out of the water.
But fishermen are pleased about activity on another storm front: the California Legislature.
Sen. Noreen Evans has introduced a bill that many North Coast fishermen hope will lead to a limit on the amount of traps fishermen can set in the waters.
Local crab fishermen have sought trap limits for years, complaining that larger boats are coming down from the North and scooping up vast quantities early in the season, leaving less for the smaller boats to catch.
"We've got some coming down from the North carrying 600 to 1,000 traps, and they're big producers, but for most boats the maximum number of traps they can handle is 250 or 300," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "A good fisherman will produce with that number of traps."
In California, there is no limit on the number of traps Dungeness crab fishermen can set in the water, but neighboring Oregon and Washington have enacted trap limits in recent years.
As it is written now, Evans' bill, SB369, does not include a limit on the number of traps fishermen can set. It extends the sunset date for the protections that are currently in place, such as the limits on the number of vessels that have Dungeness crab fishing permits.
But Christopher Moore, a spokesman for Evans, said one of the main goals of the legislation is to limit the number of crab traps. The parameters are still being discussed, but Moore said the upper limit for traps could be set at 500 and the system could be tiered, meaning boats would be allowed different amounts.
"A lot of those talks are in finalization right now," Moore said.
The bill, which is supported by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and the Environmental Defense Fund, seeks to protect the West Coast crab stock and reduce dangerous dynamics on the water by following the recommendations of the Dungeness Crab Task Force, which was convened in 2008.
"The industry fixes in this legislation come directly from the fishermen themselves, who have worked together for nearly two years to advise the state on how to best address safety and sustainability issues," Evans said in a statement.
A clause about trap limits could be added through amendments to the bill.
"About 90 percent of the fleet would like to see that, but whether it's going to happen I don't know," said Chris Lawson, president of the Fishermen's Marketing Association of Bodega Bay.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice vetoed legislation that would have limited boats to 250 traps in 2004 and 2005. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said he opposed establishing an arbitrary limit on traps per boat.
Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet taken a position on the measure. And with key provisions still missing from the bill, it's difficult to gauge whether it will be passed by the Legislature. But Grader is hopeful that this year, the timing will be right.
"Jerry Brown was the last governor in the state that really tried to help fisheries," Grader said. "It's been pretty sad between now and then. Now he's back and maybe we have the chance to do some good."
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