North Coast crabbers among those expected to get $26 million in federal disaster aid

Four years after a toxic algae bloom shut down the commercial crab industry during a critical 4½-month stretch, disaster relief checks tied to the 2015-16 season are finally expected to hit the mail this week - at least for most of those anticipating a cut of $25.8 million in long-awaited federal assistance.

It’s been a long and arduous process. But Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said he’s grateful to those who came through for the West Coast fleet - from California legislators to the federal Department of Commerce.

“It’s incredibly important,” said Oppenheim, who pushed for aid on behalf of commercial crabbers affected by the extended presence of a powerful neurotoxin that tainted Dungeness and rock crab, as well as many other marine and coastal species.

The federal aid package includes $22.8 million in direct aid to crab fishermen and seafood processors. More than $14 million is designated for 570 Dungeness crab permit holders, including about 60 in Bodega Bay.

They are to be paid according to the number of crab traps they were permitted to have in the 2015-16 season - from $42,680 for those permitted for 500 pots to $14,938 for those permitted for 175.

The checks were to be mailed Tuesday for about 70% of permitted crab fishermen, Oppenheim said.

But for some crabbers, there are still details to iron out before they can secure disaster relief, though people in that group already are aware they have complications, he said.

Some of those who own crab permits transferred from person to person over time learned when they applied for disaster aid that the names of former owners remained attached to the permit, potentially forcing the actual owners to share their federal assistance.

“It’s been a nightmare for a couple of fishermen who realized there were people on their license they didn’t realize were still there,” Oppenheim said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at ?707-521-5249 or ? On Twitter ?@MaryCallahanB.

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. 

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