The Costal Conservation Association of California (CCA CAL), Coastside Fishing Club, and Humbolt Area Saltwater Anglers have submitted a letter to the California Fish and Game Commission with a position on potential new regulations on crab trap regulations.
This is being brought up by the commission in an effort to limit and prevent whale entanglements with crap trap gear. You can read the full letter below.
Dear Dr. Shuman and Ms. Murray:
The issue of whale entanglements has been difficult for both stakeholders and the Department. The goal of the Coastside Fishing Club, Humbolt Area Saltwater Anglers and Coastal Conservation Association California is, and always has been, to work with the Department to arrive at reasonable and responsible measures to address the recreational crab fishery and its potential impacts on whale entanglements. Certainly, we share the goal of improving accountability and decreasing the risk of whale entanglements in the recreational Dungeness crab fishery.
We generally agree with the majority of the measures that the Department intends to recommend to the Fish and Game Commission. However, there are serious concerns with some measures out of proportion to risks presented by recreational activities. In addition, the Department has attached an urgency to arriving at revised recreational regulations so that they can be included in the conservation plan being drafted in furtherance of a federal permit for the commercial crab fishery. However, the original reason to do this appears to have been mistaken. The commercial timeline should not govern the recreational timeline.
Below is a summary of our position on the specific measures discussed with the Department
• Enhanced marking – Two different methods have been discussed: adding a white cow tag or small buoy. While we believe that the cow tag will be easier to implement and lead to improved compliance, we are agreeable to either method. We recognize the need to facilitate the distinction between recreational and commercial gear.
• Service interval – There is agreement with the Department for a service interval of 16 days.
• Validation program – We believe that a validation or license endorsement should be required only for those deploying crab traps. Requiring a validation for every license holder retaining crab is unnecessary to satisfy the needs of the program, i.e., to collect information on the number of traps, their location and resulting harvest. For example, CPFV passengers and guests on private boats would have no additional information to add on the fishery. Requiring a validation stamp to deploy traps is an additional expense, however nominal, and such a further regulatory burden should not be imposed on someone that does not deploy traps.
• Trap limits – There is no agreement on the appropriate trap limit within the Department or between the Department and stakeholders. One reason is that there is no data or analysis to support the need for a specific trap limit. The ostensible reason to establish a limit is to reduce the number of lines in the water. The Department seeks to reduce in the recreational sector responsible for only about 6% of confirmed entanglements while the commercial sector, responsible for about 94%, of confirmed entanglements, sees no preemptive reduction in traps. The Department’s priorities seem to be more consistent with an effort to reduce recreational harvest than to reduce the risk of hale entanglement. This doesn’t mean that we oppose the idea of establishing a trap limit as part of an effort to get a handle on the recreational crab fishery, but that limit needs to be justifiable and reasonable. Rather than imposing an arbitrary recreational trap limit, the objectives would be better served by first collecting information on the number of recreational traps actually being deployed. Should it then become necessary to reduce the number of traps, there would be a basis from which to start.
• Director authority – The issue here isn’t so much who has authority, but the standards for exercising that authority. The Department has effectively stated that it proposes to restrict the recreational crab fishery by the same standard that it restricts the commercial fishery. That stance is indiscriminate, completely failing to account for the factual and legal differences between the fisheries in these two sectors. Factually, the recreational fishery has one-sixteenth the number of confirmed entanglements and therefore one-sixteenth the risk. Legally, restricting the commercial fishery is necessary to fall within the negligible impact determination (NID) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). That analysis, however, does not apply to the recreational sector because the MMPA addresses only
does not apply to the recreational sector because the MMPA addresses only commercial fisheries. Restrictions on the recreational fishery must be proportional to the risks it presents. If the risks are much lower than the commercial sector, then the restrictions must be much less.
Recreational crabbers do not want to entangle or otherwise cause harm to marine mammals. While such events are very rare in the recreational Dungeness crab fishery, particularly in comparison to the number of entanglements in the commercial fishery, they do happen. We share the Department’s desire to identify and reduce the entanglement risks in the recreational crab fishery. We are concerned, however, that the rush to address a lawsuit concerning the commercial fishery has blurred the critically important factual and legal differences between the recreational and commercial fisheries. While the gear may be similar, the entanglement risks are not, and federal law does now treat these fisheries as the same.
Pursuant to a court order embodying the parties’ settlement, the Department is obligated to seek an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Because the entanglements involve listed marine mammals, Section 7(b)(4) of the ESA requires that the permitted activity also comply with the MMPA. This in turn requires the Department to submit a conservation plan upon which NMFS must make a NID for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery.
That NID is calculated for the commercial crab fishery after taking into account Total Human Caused Mortality (THCM), which considers impacts from the recreational sector and from ship strikes. One study estimates that ship strikes kill sixty endangered blue, fin and humpback whales annually. The THCM of humpback whales is dominated by ship strikes. Any THCM contribution from the recreational crab fishery is vanishingly insignificant to the NID calculation. Accordingly, entanglements in the recreational crab fishery do not impact the NID for the commercial crab fishery. The commercial crab fishery needs no protection from the recreational sector notwithstanding the Department’s current position.
A permit under the MMPA provides a safe harbor for the Department and the commercial crab fishery. However, the MMPA offers no such relief for the recreational crab fishery so there is no “MMPA permit” provision or justification for governing that fishery under the commercial RAMP constraints. The drafters of the MMPA created a “Catch-22” for recreational fisheries. Even were an MMPA exemption available to cover the recreational crab fishery, applying the same commercial RAMP constraints would unfairly and improperly hold the recreational crab fishery to a much higher standard to avoid entanglements. Criteria designed to rein in the commercial crab fishery, with at least 49 confirmed entanglements in the recent past, are not appropriate to the recreational crab fishery, with only three confirmed entanglements over the same period.
The Department states the need to protect the commercial sector from entanglements in the recreational sector. The Department should recall that the genesis of this mess is the commercial sector’s own whale entanglements. Since the entanglements in the recreational sector won’t harm commercial crabbers, the Department should cease making that argument. Recreational season closures based on commercial entanglement risks and the imposition of arbitrary and preemptive trap limits harm the recreational crab fishery.
We look forward to continued dialog with the Department and Commission to arrive at new and revised regulations that will improve management of this important recreational fishery without unnecessary restricting activities. If you believe that it would be helpful for you to understand this fishery, we invite you to join us for a day of recreational crabbing.
Coastside Fishing Club
Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers
Coastal Conservation Association – California