year Steve Harbell, WSU Extension marine resources educator, helps
West Coast tug boat operators, commercial fishermen, and commercial
crab fishermen negotiate an agreement that saves the three industries
an estimated $1 million annually.
“Conflicts between ocean-going tugs and crab gear historically
have caused severe problems along the Pacific Coast,” Harbell
said. “Crab pots were fouling tugs and barges as they moved
between coastal ports and the loss of crab gear was costly to commercial
It costs about $200 to replace each lost crab pot. Fouled wheels
can cost towboat operators upwards of $20,000 to fix. Lost fishing
time and downtime pile on top of the equipment costs.
who also wears hats as director of the extension offices in Pacific
and Grays Harbor counties, has been involved in the project since
it began 30 years ago. “I was involved in coordinating several
annual meetings that were held in my area and in distributing the
towlane information to commercial fishermen locally.
State University Extension/Sea Grant had the lead in the project
and published the charts. In the early 1990s, OSU turned the project
over to the industry and the head of the local crab fishermen’s
association carried on the project for three years. I was asked
to take over leadership of the project in 1997.”
year Harbell arranges and runs two major meetings in Astoria, OR,
with commercial fishing, towboat, and shipping industry representatives
from California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. “Astoria
is a good central location for the industry,” he said.
annual negotiation takes place in the spring. A pre-season meeting
takes place in November. Smaller meetings may be convened at other
locations during the year as the need arises. The two major meetings
attract 30 to 40 people.
|Doug Iverson (left), Montesano, and Steve Harbell discuss crab pot-free lanes on a navigation chart.
The overall agreement is not renegotiated. "All
three industries have benefited from the towlane designations,
so they are happy to maintain the system year after year," Harbell
The negotiations center on any proposed changes in lanes. "These
are usually suggested to improve safety, increase fishing area,
reduce conflicts with gear, or improve vessel traffic patterns,"
these changes are suggested, I must be sure that all parties are
in agreement, so this where the negotiation process takes place.
I use a review process to solicit comments from all groups, make
any necessary adjustments; then we adopt the lane changes for
the next season."
lane changes in the three states have been made over the last
Harbell publishes the charts in the fall for distribution before
the opening of the crab season in November. The charts are sent
to about 1,200 commercial crab license holders in the three states,
as well as 30 towboat companies and 20 shipping agents."
spirit of cooperation and open negotiation continues to provide
a high level of respect and willingness to work together by all
three industries," Harbell said. "All involved agreed that the
process has helped tremendously to resolve past problems."