Fish/Shellfish Research and Management - Management and Conservation
Date Published: July 21, 1999
Revised Date: 2001-08
Number of Pages: 26
Author(s): Steve Barry, Heather Reed and Michele Robinson (Updated by Heather Reed and Jay Odell)
In 1994, the Washington State Legislature enacted legislation that established a license limitation program for the coastal Dungeness crab fishery (Second Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1471). As a result of this legislation, RCW 75.20.480 was created which states:
Coastal Dungeness crab resource plan.
The department [of fish and wildlife], with input from Dungeness crab–coastal fishery licensees and processors, shall prepare a resource plan to achieve evenflow harvesting and long-term stability of the coastal Dungeness crab resource. The plan may include pot limits, further reduction in the number of vessels, individual quotas, monthly limits, area quotas, or other measures as determined by the department. The plan shall be submitted to the appropriate standing committees of the legislature by December 1, 1995. [1994 c 260 § 20.]
In February 1996, the Department of Fish and Wildlife submitted its Resource Plan for Evenflow Harvesting and Long-term Stability in the Coastal Dungeness Crab Fishery to the Senate and House Natural Resources Committees. In developing that resource plan, Department staff met with two crab industry workgroups–one representing processors and one representing fishers. After much discussion, the industry representatives and Department staff concluded that there were three outstanding issues which prevented them from accomplishing their task: 1) the question of whether the offshore crab resource would be under federal or state jurisdiction; 2) the effect of the federal court order granting up to 50 percent of the harvestable shellfish resources to the treaty tribes; and 3) the license limitation program had not been fully implemented. Until these factors had been resolved, the Department and the industry recommended delaying further development of an even-flow harvest plan.
These three factors have since been resolved to a certain extent. Since 1996, the Department has negotiated Dungeness crab annual management agreements with each of the coastal treaty tribes to implement the federal court decision by Judge Rafeedie, and by the end of 1996, the license limitation program had been fully implemented. In 1998, Congress extended the state’s authority to manage the Dungeness crab fishery in the exclusive economic zone adjacent to Washington until September 30, 2001.
The coastal Dungeness crab fleet has significantly grown since the mid-1980's. This has greatly accelerated the catch rates, which has resulted in most of the harvest occurring very early in the season. In 1994, 50 percent of the harvest occurred in the first six weeks of the nine-month season. By 1996, 50 percent of the harvest was occurring in the first two weeks of the season. This increasing harvest rate in the months of December and January makes it difficult to meet our mandate relative to 50/50 sharing of the harvestable resource with the treaty tribes.
As a result of concern over the increasing catch rate and the resolution of those three factors, Department staff and industry members agreed to meet to discuss the development of an evenflow harvest regime. The Department formed a Coastal Dungeness Crab Advisory Group and held a series of meetings that were open to the public to discuss goals, objectives, and management strategies.