Crab closure frustrates North Coast fishermen

Dungeness crab fishermen and federal fisheries officials are locked into a dispute over a nearly one-month industry closure around Haida Gwaii that starts July 5th.

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada management plan says the fishery was supposed to close March 1st until August 1st because of moulting by the invertebrates, but it has remained open while crabbers collected samples and data.

Spokesman Jeff Johansen says the fishermen haven't been able to collect enough information about the crab, so as a precaution officials have shut the industry down for much of July.

"The reason the closure is in place is to protect the crab during their very vulnerable soft shell period," he said. "They're very vulnerable to handling during their soft-shell condition."

Johansen says the closure is part of the regular management plan for the species, but local crab fishermen say the closure during their peak harvest period will result in significant economic losses.

Paul Edwards, president of the Area "A" Crab Association, said about half of the North Coast's crab haul is typically caught in the months of July and August.

"There's 150 direct jobs affected in this closure, which represents $22 million a year to the economy. Plus, the spin-off jobs: shore workers, truck drivers, you name it," he said.

About 60 crabbers set up a blockade Friday outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in Prince Rupert, B.C., and Edwards said more protests will follow.

Edwards said the department's decision was a bad one, and wasn't based on science. His association is calling on the federal government to review and reverse the decision to close the fishery.