Out on Spud Point Marina's C Dock, scores of empty boat slips attract feathered squatters who litter the concrete floating platforms with crab shells, cannibalized seagull bones and dried guano that crackles underfoot like a carpet of egg shells.
"We have tenants here but they don't pay, and they don't use the berth-holders restrooms," said Deborah Klein, the marina's current manager, pointing to boat berths that have been vacant for two years.
"I've been out here when the crunching sound is deafening."
Not counting the seagulls, the occupancy rate is 67 percent at Spud Point, which is part of the Sonoma County Regional Parks system. Two years ago, recreational berthing fees at the marina were raised 22 percent. The result was a serious decline in business.
"We lost about 22 percent of permanent berthers," Klein said.
The fee increase was only part of the reason for the decline. Other factors included the recession and three years of halted or severely limited salmon runs, Klein said.
This year's "bonanza crab season" has been a boon to the marina but more needs to be done, she said, to bring boats back to the dock.
This week, county supervisors approved changes to marina fees, including a rollback of the recreational berthing fee. The changes, which also include a number of fee increases, were done to make the marina more competitive and bring fees in line with industry averages, Klein said.
The new fees include:
-- A recreational berthing rate reduction from $8 to $6.55 a linear foot.