Members of Congress from Washington state Monday introduced bipartisan bills in the Senate and House to permanently extend a decades-long fishery management agreement that has been vital to Washington state’s Dungeness crab fishery.
The states of Washington, Oregon and California cooperatively manage the West Coast crab fishery in federal waters under a tri-state agreement that Congress first authorized in 1998. The act would make that existing authority permanent. The agreement expired without a replacement in 2016.
Since early January, crab fleets from Northern California to Washington state had kept their boats in port as part of a disagreement with seafood processors. Although an agreement was recently reached, the bills by Senator Maria Cantwell and Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler will help to reintroduce much-needed stability to the industry.
“The Dungeness crab fishery is critical to fishermen and coastal economies in Washington state,” Cantwell said. “This legislation preserves an effective agreement that has allowed Pacific Coast states to sustainably manage our crab fisheries for many years.”
“The permanent extension of the tri-state agreement is imperative for the future success of the West Coast dungeons crab fishery,” said Herrera Beutler. “Allowing the authorization to lapse creates uncertainty for the West Coast crab fishery and we need to reauthorize this management plan as soon as possible so crab fishermen can continue supporting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in benefits to our communities.”
Crab populations vary greatly by year, depending on food availability and ocean conditions. The Dungeness crab catch tends to peak every 10 years, and can fluctuate by tens of millions of pounds between years. In order to manage the fishery appropriately, managers must coordinate between states to ensure management and conservation goals are achieved.
Washington state’s Dungeness crab industry brings $61 million into the state’s economy annually. Crab fishermen in the state harvest an average of 9.5 million pounds of crab per year, supporting more than 60,000 maritime jobs. Washington Senator Patty Murray and State Senator Derek Kilmer were among those who co-sponsored the bills.