Anglers clamoring to net last of crabs

Monday is the last day of the crabbing season in California — a date that usually passes with little fanfare because fishers have long since abandoned their crab pots and taken up their steel salmon lines.

But this year, many will be fishing crab until sunset Monday.

“We’re all just trying to get the last buck before there’s no more fishing to do out there,” explained lifelong angler Marc Alley, of Daly City.

With salmon fishing banned this year and crab season over, many fishers will be scrambling to make ends meet this summer.

Harbormasters in San Mateo and San Francisco counties worry the latest woe in the region’s commercial fishing industry is convincing more and more fishers to give up their poles for good.

In April, the state decided to close the salmon fishery for the year because the fish count in California streams had dropped precipitously. This year’s crab season also started late, delayed by the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay.

Though local fishers will likely find some financial relief in a federal aid package passed by Congress in May, others are choosing to abandon their trade, said Dan Temko, harbormaster of in Half Moon Bay Pillar Point Harbor.

“It’s a tough industry — you don’t see a lot of new faces,” he said. “The average age of the guys who are in it keeps getting older, and the more fishery closures, the less people are in it.”

Pillar Point Harbor has seen its fleet of commercial fishing boats drop from a full house of 221 boats in 1998 to just 110 last week, Temko said. Of those that remain, only about half are “serious full-timers,” he said.

The numbers are similar at Hyde Street Harbor, a $7 million project that opened in 2001 to accommodate what was then an overflowing number of seasonal fishing boats. Last week, it was less than half full, Harbormaster Hedley Prince said.

Larry Cullins, president of the Crab Boat Owners Association in San Francisco, said he’s going to spend his free summer advocating for the state to divert less river water to agriculture, a practice he blames for the decline in salmon.

But even if he fails, he said, he’s not going anywhere.

“We commercial fishermen are a stubborn lot — you have to be, to do this for a living,” he said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

62: Average number of fishing boats at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Commercial Fishing Harbor, June 2002

29: Boats at Hyde Street last week

221: Boats at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, 1998

110: Boats at Pillar Point last week

775,000: Fall run of Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River, 2002

54,000: Chinook salmon projected to return in the fall

Sources: Pillar Point Harbor, Port of San Francisco, California Department of Fish And Game, Pacific Fisheries Management Council

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