Federal relief may soon be on way for California Dungeness crab fishermen

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With crab season hanging on the edge, California and the Bay Area's beleaguered fishermen are beginning to get some help both locally and they hope federally.

Crab pots on the dock of Pier 45 are empty, when at this time of the year they should be at the bottom of the sea attracting crustaceans.

The big news Tuesday came from California's Governor Jerry Brown who formally applied to the U.S. Federal Department of Commerce to declare a fisheries disaster in the state of California. If approved, it could bring money to crab fisherman.

It's a lonely place for what should be the crab season. Pier 45 in San Francisco is enduring tough times like never before. "Thirty five years of fishing and I have never seen it that bad," crab fisherman Larry Collins said.

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Collins said that before he received a phone call from the head of California's Department of Fish and Wildlife with news that relief may be on the way in the form of a federal fisheries disaster declaration. "Yesterday we had no hope and today we do have hope," Collins said.

Hope has been in short supply since an algae bloom tainted and then forced a closure of California's $60 million a year crab fishery.

All winter, we've been paying higher prices for crab from out of state. It's as much as $17 a pound at Fisherman's Wharf.

Times are so tough in the area that the Port of San Francisco waived all fees for fishermen from February through April. "It says we want to keep the fish in Fisherman's Wharf and the fishermen in Fisherman's Wharf," Maritime Director Peter Dailey said.

In the meantime, the demoic acid in California's crabs population continues to decline, but 30 percent the sampled crabs remain toxic.

At the Romberg Tiburon Center, researcher William Cochlan noted that, while federal emergency money for fishermen may help, short term he needs research money. "Well, I would say that if we don't want this to happen in the future, we have to understand the root causes," Cochlan said.

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