MOSS LANDING – On a cool Thursday morning this week, Calder Deyerle turned on his Boston whale and set out from Moss Landing Harbor in search of the catch of the day. But to catch this there was no swimming or tail or claw. Deyerle was hunting for crab gear.
Five or six years ago, more than 70 whales – mostly blue, blue and humpback whales – were caught in lines connecting a surface buoy to the crab trap resting on the seabed. A collapse in the krill population has moved the whales closer to shore to feed on alternative food sources and down to the crab lines.
Lines and traps designed for Dungeness crabs can be fatal to whales entangled in the equipment, often causing dehydration, infected wounds, respiratory or reproductive problems, and even starvation.
But the efforts of Dungeness crab fishermen drastically reduced the number of entangled whales. There was no this year. The biggest threat to whales today is not from crab gear, but from pirate attacks.
Deyerle is one of nine Monterey Bay commercial fishermen who contributed to a project called the Lost Recovery Project coordinated by the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, which in turn is authorized by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Fishermen take various routes through their fishing grounds while looking for crab gear that has been cut loose, often by the propellers of larger suitcase seniors. Dungeness crab season closed on June 1, some six weeks earlier, as twisted leather turtles and whales had already begun their migration to the Monterey Bay National Marine Temple.
On Thursday, Deyerle headed to the rim of Soquel Canyon – an arm of the Monterey Bay Canyon – where the Dungeness crab fishery ends at the edge of the continental shelf. The shelf itself is quite wide – in Half Moon Bay it stretches for 30 miles or more. But because of the canyon, the shelf of the bay plunges into the canyon less than 10 miles away.
With his eyes on his navigation electronics, Deyerle motored past other commercial fishing boats to halibut. There was a layer of sea on the bay that became denser as the Sea Harvest III approached the canyon. Sometimes Captain Deyerle’s chocolate lab stood on the bow as if he was also a member of the horizon’s optical crew for Crab Diversion gear.
Deyerle also fish king salmon, California halibut, black cod and redfish. Black cod, also known as sablefish or butterfish, is a deep-sea species that is fishing with long lines in the canyon, sometimes more than 300 meters deep. He will often follow a grid pattern in search of crab gear as he makes his way through the other fisheries.
“There’s something karma about picking up the traps,” Deyerle said. “And for $ 300, nobody wants to lose them.”
Deyerle respects marine life and would never want to contribute to a complication, he said. In addition, there is an economic motive to pick things up. A single complication can bring the Dungeness season to a complete halt. So far, he has found no gear gear, and other team members have found a total of five ropes and buoys, said Sherry Flumerfelt, the executive director of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.
“The Lost Lost Recovery Project is an easy win for fishermen, wildlife and all boats,” he said. “And it is a great example of the dedication and management of our local fishing community.”
The mission of the trust is to promote the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of Monterey Bay fishing. One way to achieve this is by engaging stakeholders, bringing the fishing industry, regulators and environmental groups to the same table to try and tackle issues in a collaborative way. But it can be difficult.
While crashing his ship on some high waves, Deyerle spoke about his volunteer work for a working group made up of a number of stakeholders to discuss the prevention of complications. Some of his fishing colleagues were not happy and even threatened him.
“They even threaten my family,” he said.
But for the most part, the Crabbers work together. If someone finds another fishing gear, he is brought ashore and kept in a walled area next to the dock owner’s office at Landing Moss. The Fisheries Trust carries out retrieval projects from ports in Monterey, Moss Landing and Santa Cruz.
Buoys have numbers and Dungeness tags that allow the trust to identify the ship and contact the owners. Owners can then collect the gear for a small fee which is then used to issue permits or reimburse fishermen for the gas they burn while looking for gear and other ancillary expenses.
But some of the fishing equipment found does not belong to the fishermen of the bay. Deyerle said the fishing gear can sometimes be towed for hundreds of miles if a vessel boat or other large vessel overtakes or if caught in algae fields that have been uprooted and floated on the tides and streams.
He said: “They are like small floating islands.”
Monterey Bay is not a great fishing dungeness compared to other places in Northern California, from San Francisco to the California-Oregon border. Last year there were about 300 pots lost in the Crescent City area.
As the fog bank thickened as the Sea Harvest III approached the canyon, Deyerle spoke about the importance of sustainability in the fishery. His family owns the Sea Harvest restaurants in Monterey, Moss Landing and Carmel, which specialize in locally caught seafood.
Sometimes seafood labeled “local” is not. For example, some squid caught in the bay are shipped to China, where it is then processed, frozen, and shipped back to California. Some restaurants may advertise their seafood as “locally maintained,” which is technically true, but hardly follows a sustainable path.
The Fisheries Trust works to connect consumers with sustainable local seafood. Information on where to find fresh local fish or which restaurants to serve is available on the Trust website at https://montereybayfisheriestrust.org/local-catch-guide.