.Will Gov. Brown Declare a Dungeness Disaster, Or What?

Earlier today I called and emailed California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to ask about local lawmakers’ recent request, in the form of a letter, that Brown declare the still-closed California Dungeness fishery a disaster. Coastal lawmakers, including Sen. Mike McGuire, implored the governor in late January to issue a disaster edict, given that there’s no sign of the Dungeness season opening because of persistently high levels of gastro-horrific domoic acid in the crabs. In the meantime, fishermen are getting squeezed quite badly, the holidays were a total bust for them, and a state disaster declaration would open the door to federal assistance to the fishermen. While the fleet awaits word from Brown, Bodega Bay has meanwhile started a food bank for hungry, out-of-work crabbers. 

After posting Brown’s press office, I heard back pretty quickly from Jordan Traverso, Deputy Director of Communications, Education and Outreach with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The upshot: For now at least, Brown is not declaring the Dungeness domoic-acid dilemma a state disaster, despite the calls from state and federal elected officials that he do so.  

Traverso assures that “the Governor’s administration is closely monitoring the situation and is deeply aware of the effects the closure has had on communities and businesses across California. We are continuing to look for ways to support those impacted, including seeking federal funds. As our director (of CDFW, Charlton H. Bonham) noted in the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture Hearing on December 3, we have begun the work to build a case for federal assistance.”

The Dungeness season opener was delayed in November, and Traverso says that as of Feb. 2, “as far as the season potentially opening, there is no update at this time.” She reiterated the statutory scheme of things when it comes to who can open or close a fishery when health concerns are at play. “[I]n a circumstance like this involving public health, we can only open and close the seasons based on recommendations provided to us from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. They make their recommendations based on health advisories from the California Department of Public Health. CDPH will only lift their advisory after two clean tests at least seven days apart.”

That hasn’t happened, and Traverso says that “It’s impossible to tell when/if the testing will begin to come back clean.”

In other words, the months-long shutdown is a complete and total disaster for the state’s $60 million annual Dungeness industry—but it’s not an official complete and total disaster, at least not yet.

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