Dungeness crab closure spurs aid efforts for Bodega Bay fishermen

Individuals and local agencies have stepped up to help crab fishermen as they await a decision on more extensive federal and state aid.|

How to help

Donations for Bodega Bay fishermen may be made through https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/SonomaCountyParksFoundation.

North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, was among four members of Congress who, way back in November, wrote Gov. Jerry Brown and urged him to be prepared to help the state’s commercial crab fleet.

He wanted Brown to seek a declaration of a fishery disaster from the Department of Commerce that potentially could qualify commercial crabbers for federal relief in the way of Small Business Administration loans, grants or retraining.

Now, with most valuable part of the crabbing season gone, the possibility that it could still open some time in the next five months - the season would normally run to June 30 - has complicated efforts to determine whether an economic disaster will be declared.

“It’s a formula based on losses in the fishery that has a lot of moving parts,” Huffman said.

The governor, meanwhile, “is aware of the situation,” and has tasked the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with monitoring the situation, according to Jordan Traverso, the agency’s deputy director of communications.

“We’re looking into all of our options for any kind of relief for crab fisherman,” Traverso said last week, “but our hope right now is that there’s going to be a season opening and that they’re going to be able to recoup some of the lost costs - for some of the season, anyway.”

It’s become increasingly difficult, however, for the fishermen, some of whom are eating only thanks to the kindness of local residents and agencies who have rallied to support them in what is clearly a time of need. That they are well known for their independent spirit and pride only makes it harder to bear, many said. Those who can help have largely tapped themselves out aiding others.

“There’s a lot of guys in a world of hurt,” said commercial crabber Dick Ogg, 63, whose 35 years as lead electrician for Sonoma State University provided financial reserves on which most fishermen can’t depend. “It affects us everywhere - not just financially, but mentally.”

Sonoma County Regional Parks personnel, who have an up-close perspective because of their operation of the marinas in Bodega Bay, have helped organize several local relief efforts since December, including raising funds through the nonprofit parks foundation. They distributed more than $8,500 in $100 Safeway cards over the Christmas holiday, mostly for deckhands.

Aided by individual parks personnel, members of the Fishermen’s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay, “Santa Tim” Oxford of Windsor, the Redwood Empire Food Bank, parishioners at St. Teresa of Avila in Bodega and St. Philip the Apostle in Occidental, as well as others, toys were made available for children to open on Christmas Day, said Spud Point Marina office assistant Lori Cavenaugh, who has been managing donations.

The humble laundry room at Spud Point Marina now serves partly as an emergency food pantry, where those in need can discreetly stock up on donated breakfast cereals, noodle soup, peanut butter, canned pork and beans, and the like. Another round of grocery cards is in the works, as well, with an infusion of $10,000 approved last week by the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Festival, bringing total revenues raised to $22,000.

Sonoma County supervisors voted last week to waive a month of berthing fees for 98 boat owners, using $33,232 from a lease fund covering tidelands. Seventy-four owners, or about three-quarters of those who berth commercial vessels at the marinas, are a month or more behind on their fees, owing the county about $30,000 as of Friday, according to Deputy Parks Director Jim Nantell,

Shane Lewis, administrative services officer for Regional Parks, said federal worksheets used to calculate the economic impacts in disasters are being distributed at the marinas. They have been returned with more than $3.3 million in estimated losses from the first 30 anglers alone.

“The fishermen,” said Nantell, “they make 80 percent of their income off of crab. It’s gone.”

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

How to help

Donations for Bodega Bay fishermen may be made through https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/SonomaCountyParksFoundation.

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