February 1997 – Issues & Opinion
Day two. The first item on the agenda:
The Puget Sound Dungeness Crab fishery. Staff proposed to Regionalize the fishery so that most of the Sound area would be broken up into Sport only crabbing.
The genesis of this is of course the Tribes contention that they are due 50% of the harvestable crab, based on an ongoing Federal court case. In the original Boldt decision and the subsequent modifications by the US Supreme Court, crab and other shellfish were explicitly excluded. But in the on-going case before Judge Raffidi, he ruled that anything which swims, in any stage of it’s life cycle, is a fish. Therefore, since crab, like clams and oysters, have a free swimming larval stage, are fish, and thus subject to the Court mandated 50-50 sharing plan. Talk about the ridiculous! You see how biology and science goes out the window when politics gets involved in fisheries management?
From the State’s point of view, they must now provide half of the crabs to the Tribes. Thus, the argument centers around how to divide up the remaining portion. Since the majority of the Non-Indian crab catch is from the Northern part of the Sound, along the Canadian border, the State would basically close all other areas to Non-Indian harvest. This of course, greatly impacts those permit holders who live and crab elsewhere in the Sound.
As it is there is no more room left in the open area to place any additional gear from the displaced permit holders during the 3 weeks the fishery is open. No to mention the huge Canadian-Vietnamese crab fishery immediately on the other side of the border (or even into US waters). So these guys are effectively out of business. The choice being: the loss of the 6 month season where they fished previously, and moving into an already overcrowded fishery for 3 weeks.
Of course, these now exclusive sport areas are underutilized to the extreme because most sport crabbing takes place in the late spring and summer, when the areas where traditionally closed to commercial crabbing due to molting crab – I just never got it that a molting crab in a commercial pot was a bad thing, but OK in a sport pot. But then, like many commercial fishermen, I have only a few college degrees, unlike the well-educated fisheries managers. We know nothing… nothing.
But now it get interesting… A sport crabber came up to me and some other fellows out side the meeting room, introduced himself and said, "You guys should be out there too. I don’t understand why they are shutting you out. It makes no difference to me whether you are out there crabbing or the Indians". Too bad he never got a chance to testify.
You see what he means is that as far as room and his catch go, he just trading one group of commercial fishermen for another. What this you say?
Yes, the Tribes don’t care how the state divides up it’s waters, or which Non-Indian fishes where. They fish when and where they please, until their biologists, not the State’s tell them the quota they set is caught.
So our little bay out here in dear old Port Townsend, instead of supporting 4 or 5 Non-Indians running 50 pots each, now has 5 Tribal boats running several hundred pots or more each. Where is the gain for the sport crabbers? Or for that matter, the resource?
But wait there’s more…. It seems a Western Tribe (near Neah Bay) petitioned Judge Rafferdi to expand their U and A (Usual and Accustomed fishing/hunting area) crabbing grounds. No matter that, historically, Puget Sound Indians only ate crab when faced with starvation, which only was a problem when the Hiada and Klinkits screwed up and killed too many males, enslaved too few women and children and took too much of the salmon before going back to what is now Canada… Ah, for the good ol’ days…
What did Rafferdi reply? "What’s a U and A? I haven’t ruled on any such thing". OOPs
"But Judge", said the tribe, "It’s for our deep water crab rights".
Said the Judge, "What deep water crab rights? I haven’t ruled on that either. All lawyers on this case will submit briefs to me no later than Wednesday." – 02/05/1997. A Very Big OOOOPs.
But that not withstanding, the Fish And Wildlife Commission passed as Staff recommended on the regionalization of the crab. Go figure.
The State is now in the position of enforcing a Federal Court ruling that was never made.
Wash. Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing Report – Day 1 – Sport Issues.
Wash. Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing Report Day 2 – Commercial Crab Issues.
Wash. Fish and Wildlife Commission Hearing Report Day 2 – Commercial Salmon Issues.