SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - California's fishing fleet is edging on financial disaster as the already delayed crab season drags on. In Santa Rosa, state officials held a public hearing to tell hundreds of fishermen everything they know.
The news wasn’t good and California's dwindling commercial and sport fishing industry may continue to downsize. Crab boats, commercial and sport, have sat idle at Bodega Bay and all along the West Coast for three weeks.
Toxic algae has ruined the Thanksgiving crab feast and as fishermen heard in a joint Assembly and Senate hearing in Santa Rosa Thursday afternoon, Christmas may be lost as well.
"Reopening? I don't know when we will be open. You deserve honesty," says Charlton Bonham. Director of the State Fish & Wildlife Department.
"This industry, as you know, sinks or swims based on consumer confidence." adds Senator Mike McGuire, (D) North Bay.
But the sobering reality is, whether it's El Niño, climate change, or global warming, if it can entirely disrupt one fishery, it can disrupt them all.
"I lost probably 40 charters already," says Capt. Gordon Tindall, owner Miss Anita and GT Style, two sport crab boats. He says salmon season turned out to be lousy, the cod season closes down the end of the month until June and the crucial lucrative crabbing is on indefinite hold.
Tindall says, "Financially, it's crippling to say the least. This month sets us up for the first three months of the year until April when salmon season opens. So, without this last boost, to put money in the bank to cover your dock fees and everything else, it makes it really difficult."
Which brings us back to the still ongoing hearing on how bad, bad really is. "There is the potential for a Federal Disaster Declaration under two statutes," says Director Bonham. "We need to start developing a plan for financial assistance for those who are dependent on the crab fishery," adds Senator McGuire.
"There's a lot of people that are hurting. Depending on when we open, it's gonna get nothing but worse," says Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association.
If crab season starts after Christmas, prime demand for crab goes down; no doubt driving prices down. That's something already financially compromised fishermen can ill afford as they get no discount on their many, many bills.