Cantwell’s Dungeness Crab Bill Passes Senate Commerce Committee

By:  Doug Barker
Source: The Aberdeen Daily World

Dungeness crab fishermen on the Pacific Coast are happy with the current management structure of their fishery, known as the Tri-State Agreement and administered by state agencies in Washington, Oregon and California. But without congressional action, the law allowing the agreement will sunset next September.

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee passed Sen. Maria Cantwell’s West Coast Dungeness Crab Management Act of 2015, which would make the three-state arrangement permanent. It still has to pass the full Senate.

In a bi-partisan effort a bill sponsored by Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler cleared the House last summer.

“We’re just really appreciative that the congresswoman and the senator have been so helpful in trying to preserve the existing authority,” said Larry Thevik, a crab fishermen from Ocean Shores who is vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association.

Under the agreement, each state manages its own crab fishery, but there is cooperation on key issues and common rules in many cases.

The three states have worked together the past 17 years and it has worked well, Thevik said.

Dungeness crab is one of the West Coast’s most valuable fisheries. Last year the harvest from Washington, Oregon and California yielded 53 million pounds with a value of more than $169 million. Washington state, the highest producing state, yielded more than 21 million pounds and brought in more than $61 million to the state’s economy, according to a Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission report.

“The Dungeness crab fishery is a key economic driver of Washington state’s seafood industry which supports more than 60,000 maritime jobs,” said Cantwell in a news release. “This legislation will help to ensure the successful Dungeness crab fishery continues to thrive along the entire West Coast.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and each senator from Oregon and California, co-sponsored the legislation.

The bill oversees management beyond the state’s three-mile authority and out to 200 miles, with cooperation from federal authorities.

If the bill is allowed to sunset, it’s unclear what that would mean, but presumably there would be greater federal involvement in management beyond the state’s three-mile authority.

Thevik said the fishermen and processors who have pushed for the legislation, aren’t attacking federal authority, but he notes that typically it is more expensive, cumbersome and less responsive to local needs. The current arrangement “is a proven management system and we were on the verge of losing it,” he said.

“The states have done a really good job over time regulating the crab fishery,” Thevik said. “The fishery is biologically healthy.”