BODEGA BAY, Calif. — On a foggy morning in early November, Dan Kammerer hauled a crab trap onto a fishing boat about three miles off the coast of Northern California and assessed his catch: 10 or so Dungeness crabs, spindly red legs akimbo.
“I’ll pick three of these,” Kammerer, 79, said as he tossed some of the smallest crustaceans back into the ocean. “Will I pick three winners? I don’t know.”
Kammerer, a retired fisherman, is playing a small role in aiding California’s crab fishing industry, which faces an uncertain future as it grapples with an ever-shortening season.
On that day, he was selecting crabs to be tested for domoic acid, a neurotoxin that, when found in the seafood, can halt the opening of the commercial fishing season. The toxin is not the only unwanted presence: In the past few years, a handful of migrating whales have been tangled in crab traps.
Now, the season can’t open until a majority of the whales are gone.
“We’ve gone from a seven-month-long crab season to one that is going to be three months, at best,” said Ben Platt, the president of the California Coast Crab Association, which advocates for the fishery. He and some other fishermen say that it is not just their way of life at risk, but also potentially the future of California’s crab fishery, one of the state’s most valuable.
If the regulations keep tightening, Platt said, “there’s a good chance that the Dungeness fishing industry won’t survive.”
The curtailed season is the outcome of a bitter conflict between fishermen and environmentalists, who have long campaigned to protect California’s marine life from becoming entangled in fishing gear. In 2019, they reached a settlement with the state government and a group of fishermen to ensure that a region’s crabbing season could begin only once it had been declared mostly free of threatened and endangered whales.
It is also a case study in whether the country’s major fisheries can adapt to climate change: Rising ocean temperatures, scientists say, may have helped encourage the whales into crab territory. Warming waters can also increase the toxic algae blooms that can end up poisoning the shellfish.
“It all trickles down,” Jarrod Santora, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said of the knockoff effects of climate change on the fishing community. The humpback whale population, historically threatened by hunting, he added, has also recovered significantly.
Kammerer, the fisherman, said: “When there’s too many of them, who wins the battle? The whales or the fishermen?”
This year, the season is still not open in some parts of the state, including the Bay Area. For many, crab won’t be on the Thanksgiving menu. Other fishermen worry they will lose out on the Christmas market as well.
“If we don’t have the product, we’re going to lose our income,” said Tony Anello, 73, a fisherman and the owner of Spud Point Crab Company, a restaurant in Bodega Bay, a small town about 70 miles north of San Francisco.
Anello, who has been fishing for more than five decades, said he had watched his town morph increasingly into a tourist destination as many fishermen moved on. “The boats are dwindling away.”
For younger fishermen, breaking into the crab fishery can seem near impossible.
“I tried to get this job for 10 years,” said Liam Brayton, 37, who on a recent Thursday was repairing crab traps in a yard opposite the Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay. But now, he said, “I don’t see much of a future.”
In Kammerer’s case, the tough regulations were part of what led him to retire and sell his boat four years ago. But the ocean continues to lure him back, he said, and so he occasionally works as a deckhand to Dick Ogg, a friend and fellow crab fisherman.
That day, the pair cruised through cerulean waters, launching the traps and hauling them back with an air of optimism despite their acknowledgment that the future of the fishery was uncertain.
“This is our living, this is what we do every day, we don’t want that to go away; we want to take care of this environment,” Ogg, 68, said.
“I can’t imagine a life without fishing,” he added. “I’m a water person.”
Livia Albeck-Ripka is a reporter for The New York Times, based in California.
The rest of the news
Weather warning: Santa Ana winds will raise fire danger this week in parts of Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.
Stinky cities: For weeks, Carson residents have complained of a foul smell, not the first time a Southern California city has stunk, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Supply chain progress: The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will delay fines for lingering cargo containers, CNBC reports.
Student vaccines: Thousands of Los Angeles students who have missed a Covid vaccination deadline may not be able to attend in-person classes, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Citizen held in immigration detention: A lawsuit was filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of a U.S. citizen who spent 36 days in a San Joaquin Valley immigration lockup, The Fresno Bee reports.
Air particulates: Kern County has significantly reduced fine particulate emissions, but wildfires threaten to undo the progress, The Bakersfield Californian reports.
DoorDash: The restaurant delivery company will pay a $5.3 million settlement to San Francisco couriers for withholding health care coverage and paid sick leave mandated by the city, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
What you get
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Lisa McInnis, who recommends the Trona Pinnacles in Central California:
“My husband and I are East Coasters in an R.V. nine months a year for the last 10 years. We have come to love the drive down Highway 395. This year we pulled off on to California State Route 178 and camped at the Trona Pinnacles for a few days. It’s a washboard-bouncy road for the five-mile trek in, and so worth the ride.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Tiffany Moss-Ennis, who lives in Bakersfield, recently discovered a hidden talent: playing the card game Uno.
She was selected as a finalist from a pool of two million competitors and invited to compete at the Uno World Championship in Las Vegas this month, The Bakersfield Californian reports.
Moss-Ennis came in second place and walked away with a massive trophy and a check for $5,000.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Playground retort (5 letters).