Crabby about spill’s fallout

Hurting financially after a poor salmon season, fishermen wanting to haul pots loaded with Dungeness crab Thursday will have to wait

following the postponement of the opening of crab harvesting season by the governor.

Calling the incident an the incident an “unbelievable human failure,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suspended all fishing for human consumption — including the crab season — through December 1 or until the state Department of Fish and Game and state health officials determine the season can be opened.

Schwarzenegger also ordered the state Department of Public Health to determine whether people can become sick if they eat seafood caught in areas impacted by Wednesday’s spill of 58,000 gallons of shipping fuel.

The move was urged by local crab boat owners who voted over the weekend to delay the opening because of potential threats to crabs fished during the cleanup after the Cosco Busan oil spill.

The postponement will force the loss of income for perhaps two weeks, and crab fishermen will lose the high prices attributed to The City tradition of Dungeness crab for Thanksgiving, said Bill Maidhos, captain of the Ocean’s Citizen.

“Now it’s just going to be a mediocre price Dec. 1,” Maidhos said.

Last year, more than $7.5 million worth of crab was pulled from area waters by commercial fishermen, according to statistics with the Department of Fish and Game, and travelers flock from all over to crack crab. There are roughly 300 commercial vessels in the Bay Area fleet and up to 1,500 employees affected by the postponement, said Zeke Grader, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association.

The Hong Kong-based cargo ship Cosco Busan sideswiped the base of the Bay Bridge a week ago and 58,000 gallons of cheap fuel poured out of the gash left in the side of the vessel.

U.S. Coast Guard and crews commissioned by the ship owner, Regal Stone Ltd., were immediately on scene, but they failed to alert local officials that the spill was much larger than the 140 gallons initially reported.

Many fishermen are concerned that water taken from the Bay for recirculation tanks — where the crabs are stored onboard — and processing plants could contaminate the crabs, Grader said.

Another concern is that crab from sport fishermen could make its way onto the market and sicken a customer or taste bad, he added.

Larry Collins, the president of the Crab Boat Owners Association, said currently there is no market for crabs. “I’ve never seen consumer confidence at a lower level,” said the 20-year veteran of the industry.

Restaurants will have Dungeness crab for diners because they will just order it from the Pacific Northwest rather than from local fishermen. “Dungeness will still be available to people,” said Brian Dwyer with the Swan Oyster Depot, a local restaurant. “It will cost more than our local crab season would cost us.”

dsmith@examiner.com

Examiner Staff Writer John Upton contributed to this report.

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