Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fearing a take-away

1,000-plus pounds of seafood sold at anti-MLPA event

Cindy Hensel wears her sentiments on her T-shirt in the kitchen. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson)

By Kurt Madar, The Daily Triplicate
December 15, 2009

The battle to prevent further fishing restrictions along the North Coast was feeding Crescent City well Sunday.

Local fishermen hosted an all-you-can-eat crab feed at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds to raise money for fighting a statewide initiative that could close important areas for local fishing.

It was well attended.

Organizers said that after the three-hour affair was over they had sold nearly 1,000 pounds of crab donated from local boats.

“We had between 15 and 20 boats that donated crab for the feed,” said organizer Kenyon Hensel. “By the end we only had about 60 or 70 pounds left.”

The meal started at 3 p.m. Sunday, and for $10 people got plates heaped with crab, a cup of melted butter, a bowl of coleslaw, a roll and pink lemonade.

And they could go back for more as often as they wanted.

Not only were they selling crab dinners, organizers also offered whole live and cooked crabs for $6 apiece.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Brookings resident Carolyn Gimby. “Not only is the food excellent and totally worth the trip, it’s for a good cause. Local fishermen support the community, so the community should support them back.”

Gimby clearly was not alone in enjoying the spread, because unlike most full dining rooms, the sound of conversation was drowned out by the sound of eating.

Cracking shells overwhelmed the quiet murmuring of voices, and many diners went back in line for seconds, all to the succulent sweet smell of cooking crab.

Gimby wasn’t the only lover of crab who felt the dinner was important for more than just filling up on fresh seafood.

“I grew up here,” said Gasquet resident Tom Stewart, who was with his wife buying two bags of whole cooked crab to take home. “We’ve got the most accessible port in Northern California and it needs our support. Things like this may be history if they take away fishing areas.”

The crab feed was the second fundraiser held at the fairgrounds to raise money to fight the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.

The MLPA is a state-driven initiative that designs marine protected areas along the California coast, and the North Coast is the fourth region in California to begin the process.

Three types of MPAs could be established here.

The three levels of protection are primarily based on the severity of the take limit. From least restrictive to most, they include marine conservation areas, marine parks, and marine reserves (which would be no-take areas).

“We used funds from the fish feed (the first fundraiser) to retain a lawyer to investigate whether it’s legal for private parties to be funding a state-driven initiative,” Hensel said. “The funds from the crab feed will go to sustain him for the next six months while we go through the process.”

“This really is a community-based effort, not only from the fishermen that donated the crab, but also from the community members that came out to buy and eat it,” Hensel said. “We didn’t expect it, but the individual crab sales were much higher than the dinners.”

The entire affair was not only supported by donated crab, but also run by volunteers from the fishing community.

Bruce Miller, a local fishermen since 1984, spent the afternoon standing tall over two boilers filled with crab, pickling seasoning and salt.

“I’ve been cooking crab for a long time,” Miller said as he noted the time a batch was put in the roiling water. “And they want to take this away,” he said, pointing to the heaps of Dungeness crab locked pincher to pincher.

Another volunteer and member of the local fishing community, Pat Wilson, put it more directly.

“We are having a great crab season,” Wilson said. “And considering that these things usually run in cycles, it would be a crime if we lost crucial fishing grounds right before things started getting better.”

Wilson is referring to the fact that recent crab seasons have been so abysmal that fishermen have been tightening their belts for years now.

He is worried that just as things start to get good again, just as local fishermen start making up for the bad years, it could all get taken away.

If the fight against the MLPA is unsuccessful, “this won’t be the first time the community has lost something important,” Miller said, referring to the logging industry. “And probably not the last.”

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