Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dungeness Crab: A dismal harvest impacts Pacific Coast fishermen

In the United States, the Pacific Coast commercial fishing fleet has been steadily declining for years due to regulations, declining fish populations, and the continuing growth of aquafarming. This adjustment to economic reality has recently experienced an unexpected spike downward for those fishermen who take primarily salmon and crab.

Due to a record low in the number of returning chinook salmon to spawn, the federal government canceled the entire Pacific Coast salmon season. And there is the possibility that next year's season could also be called off. This forced fishermen to count on the harvest of dungeness crab to make up for the losses.

But lo and behold, the dungeness crab season is turning out to be one of the lowest on record. Scientists attribute it to a cyclical nature to crab populations - the cycle is approaching the bottom of a natural ebb and flow - but is compounded by excess fishing and ocean conditions which have disrupted the marine food chain. This year's catch is expected to be less than 25% of what was taken 4 years ago. The laws of supply and demand would dictate that fisherman could demand more per pound for this limited catch, but unfortunately the nation's current economic crisis has reduced demand to below regular market prices. Taken all together, many fishermen expect to be pushed out of business.

Commercial fishing is unfortunately learning the hard way as to the ultimate wisdom of depleting marine resources without having a sensible plan in place to maintain fish stocks. We have a long history of commercial fishing ports drying up and becoming virtual ghost towns through short-sighted thinking. But this new chain of events is an unfortunate nail in the coffin for a declining industry. It also serves as a warning as to what may lie ahead.

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