Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 4:01 am | Fair 36º

 
 
 
 

Business

Advice

Santa Barbara Commercial Fishermen, Restaurants Cope Without Crab Season

California has closed commercial rock and Dungeness crab fisheries because of high toxin levels found in seafood

Longtime local commercial crab fisherman Steve Escobar holds up a crab caught off the coast of Santa Barbara, back before the rock crab fishery was closed due to presence of a toxin.
Longtime local commercial crab fisherman Steve Escobar holds up a crab caught off the coast of Santa Barbara, back before the rock crab fishery was closed due to presence of a toxin. (Steve Escobar photo)

Steve Escobar has been dipping into his savings this month, trapping some lobster here and there or fishing for other sea fare, but he mostly waits for rock crab season to reopen.

Typically open year round, that commercial fishery has been closed off the Santa Barbara shore since Nov. 5, a rare occurrence prompted by the high domoic-acid levels found in some rock and Dungeness crab north of the Ventura and Santa Barbara County line up through Oregon.

So Escobar waits, along with more than a dozen full-time rock crab commercial fishermen who operate out of Santa Barbara Harbor.

“You don’t want to make anybody sick, so you kind of have to respect it,” said Escobar, who’s been setting up crab traps locally since 1991. “We’ve had warnings in the past, but never a closure.”

For the first time since anyone can remember — including Santa Barbara Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman — the California Department of Fish & Wildlife closed the rock crab fishery, also delaying the commercial Dungeness crab season, which was scheduled to open Nov. 15.

The agency had no idea this week when closures would be lifted, taking cues from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the California Department of Public Health, which earlier this month issued health advisories warning consumers against eating crabs caught in those areas.

“There’s hope but no official word,” Kronman said. “There’s hope the fishery could be open as early as December.”

Sample testing will continue until state health officials see a consistent decline in levels of neurotoxin domoic acid, a natural occurrence related to an algal “bloom” of a plant called pseudo-nitzschia.

According to state health officials, symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. They range from vomiting, diarrhea and headaches to trouble breathing, heart problems, coma or death.

That’s bad news for fishermen, restaurants and others who take part in the million-dollar industry, the harbor operations manager said.

“It’s a trickle down impact starting with the fishermen,” Kronman told Noozhawk. “That’s a $2 million a year industry. Typically, that’s another 28 percent expanded economic impact. It impacts people all the way down to the consumers who enjoy eating these animals.”

Some fishermen have gone crab trapping down past Ventura, he said, but many aren’t going out, which affects fuel providers, retailers, truckers and more.

Kronman said algal blooms have thrived in warmer water, possibly related to El Nino. State officials acknowledge waters have been warmer and that El Nino typically brings those temperatures, but they stop short of officially connecting the dots.

Just as fishermen have adapted, so have restaurants selling seafood.

“Being in the live seafood business, we’re kind of used to everything being very hectic,” said Adam White, who with his dad, Tom, owns the Santa Barbara’s Boathouse, FisHouse and Shellfish Company restaurants.

“There’s been a big impact, most especially on the fishermen who fish the now closed areas. I feel more for the fishermen.”

In the absence of local catch — typically hauled from off the Channel Islands — White said his eateries are paying more to get rock crab from Ventura on south, where it’s safe for consumers.

Prices haven’t increased on the menu, however, he said, acknowledging that while some customers come in aware of the advisory with questions, most have no idea.

Escobar considered boating down to Ventura for crab, but he’s content delaying for now because he’s hopeful the season will reopen in a couple weeks.

Besides, Escobar has found a couple silver linings.

He’d rather deal with a lull now than during the busier summer crab season, and he might be able to go home for Thanksgiving for the first time in years.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >

Meet Your Realtor Sponsored by Village Properties


John Sener
"I am known for tenacity, diligence, honesty, and sound decision making with the ultimate goal of closing every transaction to the satisfaction of all involved parties."

Full Profile >