Dungeness crab

A bi-partisan backed bill aimed at strengthening and protecting the state’s crab fishing industry could soon become law.

Legislation led by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) was passed by the House last January and late on Thursday finally passed the Senate. The bill now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed.

The bill extends and makes permanent a decades-long fishery management agreement that Washington, Oregon, Alaska and California lawmakers contend has been vital to the region’s Dungeness crab fishery. Without the agreement in place, Cantwell said Pacific Northwest crab fishing would face an uncertain future.

“It’s vital to our crab fishermen and the tens of thousands of maritime jobs that depend on proper management of our Dungeness fisheries that this tri-state agreement becomes permanent,” Herrera Beutler said Friday in a separate press release.

Herrera Beutler called the bill “an important win for West Coast crab fishermen.”

Washington’s Dungeness crab industry brings about $61 million into the state’s economy each year, with crab fishermen harvesting an average of 9.5 million pounds of crab a year and supporting more than 60,000 maritime jobs. Across the West Coast, commercial Dungeness crab fishing brings in some $220 million.

While crab populations can vary greatly by year, a study published earlier this year predicted increasing ocean acidification would like impact crab fisheries in the next few decades.

The study published in Global Change Biology, which used computer modelling, found that seawater is growing more acidic due to carbon-dioxide emissions. While most of this carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere, about a third of it is absorbed by the oceans. As this acidity rises, the water can be more corrosive on some animals’ shells or skeletons.

To help manage the fishery appropriately, Cantwell said states must work together to ensure management and conservation goals are met.

“The future of West Coast Commercial Fishing is anchored by Dungeness crab, which has added stability and vitality to coastal fish-dependent communities in the face of other struggling fisheries,” said Dale Beasley, president of the Columbia River Crab Fisherman’s Association in the press release.

The tri-state agreement was first passed by Congress in 1998, but it expired without a replacement in 2016.

Fellow Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), along with Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) co-sponsored the legislation.

The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

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