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New Dungeness crab law protects permitted fishermen and crab habitats

Fresh Dungeness crab catch of the day

California’s Dungeness crab fishery is one of the state’s largest and most important commercial fisheries and is an economic foundation for many of California’s ports.  A bill recently passed by the California Legislature, SB 369 (Evans), will cap the number of traps that individual fishermen can use.  This will not only protect crab populations for generations to come, but will protect the economic viability of the fishery and the coastal communities that rely on it.

The problem is that the number of crab traps being used in the fishery escalates each season as fishermen race to catch crab. This “arms race” creates unnecessary ecological impacts and threatens the long-term economic health of the fishery. This frenzied derby effect leads to a glut of crab on the market at the beginning of the season and correspondingly depresses the value of crab. It also leads to significant safety risks as the intense pressure to compete during the initial weeks of the season can lead fishermen to go out in dangerous winter weather.  This resulted in broad recognition among fishermen that trap limits are needed, but until now, agreement on what those limits should be could not be reached.

Bay Area crab fisherman preparing for the catch. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

To help address this problem, Environmental Defense Fund was approached by a group of crab fishermen in 2008 to help sponsor a bill (SB 1690 – Wiggins) to create the Dungeness Crab Task Force.  The group was charged with developing recommendations to the Legislature to address the challenges facing the fishery, including the “arms race.” It was comprised of an elected group of diverse fishermen from all major crab ports and representing both large and small boats. The group met during 2009 and 2010 and came to consensus on the design for a trap limit in the fishery. The new law incorporates the recommendations of the Dungeness Crab Force. Fishermen are broken out into 7 “tiers” basedon how much crab they’ve landed in the past. Fishermen who have landed the most can fish with 500 traps and those who have historically landedthe least can fish with 175.  The law also includes sufficient fees to cover all of the costs identified by the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and was passed with bipartisan support by the Legislature. It’s supported by major fishing organizations such as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Crab Boat Owners Association, as well as environmental groups such as EDF, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council

Let’s thank Governor Brown for passing SB 369 and helping to ensure the long term biological and economic sustainability of California Dungeness crab fishery, while at the same time promoting fishermen safety at sea.


Also posted in Ecosystem Restoration, Ecosystem Services, General, Politics / Comments are closed

Taking Climate Change Personally

As summer turns to fall, it’s a good time to take stock of recent efforts on clean energy policy. A lot happened this summer: The Gulf Coast oil spill was finally capped and serious talk occurred in Washington, D.C. about moving the U.S. away from dependence on oil. Unfortunately, little came of this conversation. Climate and clean energy legislation stalled in the Senate and meanwhile, an attack on California’s clean energy law called Prop 23 will be on the November ballot. 

Amidst these political challenges in Sacramento and DC, I thought I’d lighten it up a little by reminding us how we can take action in our own lives to reduce our oil dependence. Simple personal actions we can take: No congressman to convince, no legislation to support. 

With the help of my favorite green guru Mindy Pennybacker, below are ten every day actions you can you can take to shrink your oil footprint while getting outside to enjoy the warm fall weather.

‘Wait’ you say? Can individuals really make a difference on these issues? The answer: Yes! Our collective consumer muscle, which according to Mindy represents 70% of the U.S. economy, matters now more than ever in redirecting the marketplace toward energy and products that rely less on fossil fuels.

Mindy’s new book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices offers a number of great tips we can use in every day life to protect the Golden State.

Below are the top ten things you can do for the environment today.  Starting from #10… 

10. Say no to bottled water and non-recyclable plastics.
If every American stopped buying water in disposable bottles and used free water from the tap, we’d save at least 17 million barrels of oil a year. That’s equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. And certainly we can do our part to reduce the great Pacific Ocean garbage patch. For a list of safer reusable plastics, click here. 

9. Use compost and organic fertilizers in your garden.
Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, made from fossil fuels, overload the soil with nutrients.  These nutrients run off into waterways and out to sea, polluting groundwater supplies and stimulating the growth of algae which causes oxygen-depleted dead zones in the ocean.  Use natural composts when possible and while you’re at it, complete the composting cycle by putting your food scraps into the green composting bin. More than 200 vineyards and farms in Northern California now use compost from San Francisco instead of man-made fertilizers. 

8. Use green cleaning and personal care products.
Many conventional detergents, liquid soaps and shampoos contain chemicals that harm reproductive development in marine life–and may impact human hormones, too. Keep toxins out of the gay by using one of the many cleaning and cosmetic brands that steer clear of these and other toxic tongue-twisters.

7. Use a nontoxic sunblock.
Headed out for an afternoon in Golden Gate Park or the Oakland hills? Don’t forget safe sunscreen. A widely used sunscreen chemical, known as oxybenzone, has been linked to harming fish and coral. BP-3 is also a suspected human hormone disrupter that’s been found in 97 percent of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control. 

6. Reduce runoff when washing your car.
For those of us who have driveways, keep soapy, greasy water out of storm drains by washing your cars on flat surfaces instead of sloped driveways and use porous materials like gravel and pebbles for terraces, driveways, and paths.  For car-less BART and Muni riders (you guys are a step ahead!), conserve clean water by taking shorter showers and turning off the tap while sudsing, shaving and brushing teeth. 

5. Drive alone less, use public transportation, carpool, bike & walk more.
Not only are these methods of transport environmentally friendly, they are much cheaper ways of getting around. Casual Carpool is a great way to get around the Bay Area especially if you don’t live near public transportation hubs.  “If enough people reduce driving or switch to more energy-efficient vehicles, gasoline demand would decline and prices would decrease,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.  Its basic economics: reduced demand results in reduced production. 

4. Properly inflate your tires.
Believe it or not, low tire pressure wastes over two million gallons of gasoline in the US—every day! Save about a tank of gas a year by keeping your tires properly inflated. And make sure to have your tires correctly aligned to maximize fuel economy. 

3. Use propane/gas or natural charcoal to fire up the grill.
Every July 4th, our 60 million U.S. barbecues emit 225,000 metric tons of CO2.  Use propane and gas tanks that release the least carbon when burned.  Get rid of toxic charcoal that spews sootcook with solid charcoal from well-managed forests instead of toxic-glue-bound briquettes (never dump these on a beach!). The EPA advises a chimney or electric starter instead of lighter fluids, which produce 14,500 tons of smog. Next time you’re headed to Crissy Field for a BBQ, make sure you grab clean charcoal!

2. Turn off lights and avoid air conditioning.
Incandescent light bulbs waste 90% of their energy as heat. Even CFLs waste 30%, so turn off unnecessary lights to keep your space cooler. For those rare, toasty days when you use air conditioning in the Bay Area, turn the temperature up a bit. Air conditioning represents 21% of annual home electricity consumption. A shift from 72°F to 74°F in the summer will save 366 pounds of CO2/year and $28 on the average annual energy bill.

 1. Most importantly, join other Californians to TAKE ACTION. Two Texas oil companies are trying to kill clean energy and air pollution standards in California by killing our landmark law AB32. The oilies have put Prop. 23 on the November ballot, which will allow polluters to avoid our state’s clean energy standards, kill competition and jobs from California’s emerging clean technology companies, and keep us addicted to dirty, costly oil. 

Join the NO on Prop 23 campaign and fight to keep California’s landmark clean energy policy moving us forward. 

Also posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Politics / Read 2 Responses

The California Fisheries Fund: Helping to Grow West Coast Sustainable Fishing

With the unprecedented and uncontrolled BP oil disaster, threats to the Gulf’s fishing communities and to supplies of fresh, local and sustainable seafood are front page news. The long term impact on Gulf fishing communities and seafood remains uncertain.  The whole incident is a heart breaker, especially considering that fishing communities of the Gulf have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to models of sustainability.


Here on the West Coast, fishermen and the seafood industry are also moving towards sustainable business and management practices. Innovations are being pioneered by seafood distributors, fishermen and by regulators, especially in anticipation of a catch share management plan for the California, Oregon and Washington groundfish trawl fishery

Yet making a change to fishing under new regulations, or with new gear, isn’t necessarily easy or seamless for fishermen. That’s where the California Fisheries Fund, a non-profit revolving loan fund started by EDF, comes in. The California Fisheries Fund makes loans to fishermen and fishing industry businesses to support sustainable, profitable and better managed West Coast fisheries.

This summer the California Fisheries Fund granted a loan to Bettencourt & Son, a family fishing operation from Half Moon Bay, California. The Bettencourts used to fish for groundfish, such as Pacific cod, black cod, sand dabs, multiple rockfish species, and Petrale sole, using trawl gear. Every type of fishing gear has its own effects on the ocean, but by selecting the right gear for the right job, the fishing industry can help minimize its impact on the environment.

Rather than catching black cod in trawl nets that aim to catch a wide swath of fish all at once, targeting black cod with trap gear lets the black cod in, while letting smaller species of fish out. Trapping also avoids the unintentional capture of non-target species, known as “bycatch”, which will benefit efforts to avoid specific species of threatened rockfish. Trapping black cod will also save fishermen fuel and money, as trapping doesn’t require the long tows of a heavy net that trawling does.

For a trawl fisherman, catching black cod in low-impact gear like traps isn’t an option under the current management regime. But under new catch share management, any fisherman who owns a trawl permit will be allowed to fish with alternative gear types, allowing them to specialize in targeting certain species with gear that is the most selective, most efficient and most economical for the type of fish they are targeting.

For the Bettencourts, and other California fishermen, the California Fisheries Fund and the catch share program are opening up new opportunities to sustainably fish and to avoid imperiled types of fish. The California Fisheries Fund is receiving loan requests from trawl fishermen up and down the Pacific coast who’ve seen their fishing income dwindle in recent years, but recognize the promise of better profits, cleaner fishing and more market opportunity under the catch share program. With individual, dedicated catch shares in their portfolio, fishermen will be free from traditional regulations that often bring mid-year quota reductions, closures and derby-style fishing. They are pursuing selective new net designs, seeking new markets that value their catch, and investing in their operations to achieve higher quality, higher profitability seafood.

(Half Moon Bay photo by jurveston, Black Cod photo by mccun934)

Posted in Pacific Ocean / Comments are closed

A Golden Opportunity for California Fishing Jobs

A little over 160 years ago, the glint of gold in a saw mill sluice caught James Marshall’s eye and the race was on. Traveling by sailboat and covered wagon, prospectors arrived to California in droves, seeking fortune. But within a few years, the most easily accessible gold had been extracted and more and more prospectors returned home with empty pockets. 

California’s fisheries have gone through similar boom and bust cycles. In 1939, the state’s annual catch weighed in at 1.3 billion pounds. Since then, the fisheries off California’s coast have dramatically declined. In 2008 the catch was only 384 million pounds. Some species — most varieties of abalone, sardines and mackerel, for example — have experienced full collapse in recent years. The California salmon fishery is on life support. And revenues from the Pacific groundfish trawl fishery that include soles and cod as well as deep-water “rockfish” like colorful canary and thorny heads fell by more than half from 1997 to 2007, from $47.3 million to $22.2 million along the West Coast. 

Groundfish fishing was once the backbone of California’s fishing ports, but declining groundfish harvests have severely impacted fishing infrastructure and impacted jobs. California’s once-vibrant fishing communities have withered.  There is promise on the horizon, however. Faced with the stark failure of business-as-usual, West Coast fishery managers have had their own ‘Eureka!’ moment: that a well designed catch share program could turn the groundfish fishery around.

 In 2008, the Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to implement catch shares in the groundfish trawl fishery off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. As the name implies, catch shares dedicate a percentage of the annual allowable catch to an individual fisherman, fishing cooperatives, or a community. The government sets and enforces overall annual harvest limits, and fishermen are free to find the most profitable way to fish, up to their annual quotas.

Catch shares have a proven track record for turning around declining fisheries. The journal Science published a study that looked at more than 11,000 fisheries worldwide, of which 121 were managed using catch shares. The authors found that catch share management can halt and even reverse decades of decline in the world’s fisheries. A follow-up study in Nature shows that as fisheries recovered under catch share management, the sustainable harvest grew and, on average, quadrupled within a decade. 

The groundfish catch share program is in the final stages and can begin to go to work to rebuild our coastal fisheries and fishing communities when it hits the water in early 2011. The new program requires at-sea observers on every vessel and includes provisions for fishermen to be able to switch to different gear types that allow them to more selectively fish, therefore allowing beleaguered fish species to recover.  EDF is working hard to bring resources to help fishermen succeed in this new program. Implementing the catch share fishery here and getting it right is a golden opportunity to help rebuild our groundfish stocks, bring back fishing jobs, and make sustainable fishing the most profitable form of fishing in the Golden State.

Posted in Pacific Ocean / Comments are closed