SAN FRANCISCO – Many crabbers stayed off the water Thursday at the start of the Dungeness crab season amid health concerns due to last week's oil spill in San Francisco Bay.
Crab catchers and buyers at the city's famed Fisherman's Wharf said the bad publicity surrounding the spill means many consumers won't want to eat crab from the region.
"It just takes one crab and you'll have a problem. It's a lawsuit waiting to happen," said Max Boland, director of sales at Alber Seafoods, a wholesaler on the wharf.
Anglers had asked for a suspension of all commercial and sport fishing for at least 2 1/2 weeks, but the state announced Wednesday that only the San Francisco Bay and three miles of Pacific coast, from Point Reyes to San Mateo County, would be closed. Dungeness crab, a delicacy, is usually caught more than three miles offshore, an area not covered by the closure.
Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game, said the department consulted with all sectors of the fishing industry before deciding which areas should be closed.
"All of us were concerned about the human health issue," Martarano said. "There was a wide range of opinion, and we took everything into consideration."
Miles of beaches are still shut down after the freighter Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy fog on Nov. 7, spilling 58,000 gallons of oil into the bay.
Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal probe into the spill, and the governor also has promised an investigation. Officials have ruled out mechanical error and are focusing on the actions of the pilot and crew.
But the investigation into the cause of the crash hit a snag Wednesday when Chinese crew members of the Hong Kong-based cargo ship refused to speak with federal investigators. Some crew members had previously spoken to the Coast Guard, but new criminal and civil investigations have apparently led the crew to hire lawyers and refuse interviews, said National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman.
The NTSB could subpoena the crew members.
The Coast Guard has been criticized for a lapse of several hours between when officials knew the spill was 58,000 gallons — not 140 gallons as initially reported — and when that information was made public.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen told lawmakers the Coast Guard will review its own response, including whether its emergency plan for the bay is adequate. The process will include the city of San Francisco, the state of California and others.