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December 29, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Bring on the Crab

13 Questions for Jeny Card

The Weekly Wrap

OLD PULPSTER TO PAY: Before "Evergreen" came on the scene, in January of this waning year, and began capturing the headlines (unflattering news, often, about emissions violations and variance requests), there was Stockton Pacific Enterprises. You remember: SPE was disintegrating financially; water bills were going to soar if the pulp mill on the Samoa spit shut down entirely; workers were nervous.

And then there was the investigation, shortly before Lee & Man Paper Manufacturing Ltd. bought the mill and renamed it Evergreen Pulp, launched by the Humboldt County District Attorney's office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Division into water pollution caused by the mill under SPE's ownership.

Well, nearly a year later, that investigation has ended and on Dec. 23 the DA and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced a proposed $125,000 settlement with SPE. The proposed settlement was filed in Humboldt County Superior Court by the DA along with the accompanying civil complaint alleging violations of the Water Code, the Fish and Game Code and the Health and Safety code. Of the $125,000 settlement, $60,000 would go to the DA's office ($10,000 in penalties for unfair business practices and $50,000 for environmental education and enforcement projects) and $60,000 would go to the water board to pay for future environmental education and restoration. The remaining $5,000 would go to the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District for costs and fees.

Because Stockton Pacific is basically broke and defunct, the company's former officers and directors are responsible for the settlement fine, said the DA's office and water board in a joint news release. So now Evergreen can go back to capturing those headlines. And it may want to be even more on guard now, because the investigation seems to have whetted some appetites: "Teaming up with [DA] Paul Hagen allowed us to make the most efficient use of our enforcement resources to resolve this case," said water board executive office Catherine Kuhlman in the agencies' news release. "We can now fully turn our attention to ensuring Evergreen follows the law."


POWER OUTAGES : Anyone who wanted to celebrate the holidays with a nice pint of the Jacob Marley porter at Six Rivers Brewery last Tuesday or Wednesday walked away with a bah-humbugging buzzkill and an empty belly, after a power outage that affected much of McKinleyville forced the brewery to close for two days. According to Pacific Gas and Electric spokeswoman Lisa Randle, recent bouts of severe winter weather and equipment failure caused power outages across the county. Randle said 4,297 McKinleyville-area customers were without power after utility poles slipped on the hillside near North Bank Road and Highway 101 last week. Parts of Blue Lake, Arcata and Eureka were also without power for a few hours on Tuesday, Dec. 20. Other PG&E customers in Fortuna (where a city employee downed a tree into a power line), Garberville and Willow Creek had their power knocked out on Christmas Day. Willow Creekers were without power again on Dec. 27 because of a rainstorm, along with customers in Eureka and Garberville.


BIGFOOT, SOMMELIER? Just as we had begun to long for some fresh news of Bigfoot, a hiker has produced footage -- blurry, brief; waddaya expect? -- of an alleged Sasquatch loping (he seems to be limping, actually) through some grassy Sonoma County hills, big arms a-swingin'. That's what hiker Mark Nelson said the video he shot Nov. 11 depicted when he sent it to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization. He said he was "hiking up a trail off Skaggs Springs Road ... in the mountains of northern Sonoma County when he noticed this figure moving away from him," reports the BFRO. "He had his camcorder in his bag. He pulled it out and ran toward where the figure stepped off the road."

"We've seen plenty of hoaxed footage over the years as well," continues the BRFO. "With that said, we are confident the Sonoma footage is not fake (i.e. not animation or a man in a costume). This figure is most likely a real sasquatch -- a survivor of the gigantopithecus line of apes."

Well, our first thought, over here in Humboldt County, was, "Ah, Bigfoot's wandering out of his territory." Our second thought was, "It's the wine, he likes the wine." But, sadly, our hopes of a genuine Bigfoot story were crushed upon checking in with the standard killjoys. In one analysis, long-time Bigfoot researcher John Freitas details his attempts to get a straight story -- or even a decent interview -- out of Nelson, who apparently became evasive and his tale contradictory and deceitful. Freitas also had trouble finding the peak seen in the footage, and discovered that it looks suspiciously like a peak in San Luis Obispo.

And then, on his Cryptomundo website, Loren Coleman nitpicks even further: "Of course," Coleman writes in his dismissal of the Sonoma footage and the BRFO's acceptance of it, "if there is any way to prove it is a Bigfoot, just because the videotape is a Sasquatch does not mean it is a Gigantopithecus."

Sigh. We were so hoping for a Bigfoot, especially one with refined sensibilities.


SHELTER NEEDED: Maureen Chase of the Eureka City Schools Homeless Education Project has sent out a plea for emergency shelter sites to take in the estimated 1,000 people who "sleep under bridges, and in parks and alleys of our communities" on these bitter winter nights. Chase says the Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition wants to provide temporary "extreme weather shelters" throughout the county that would be open on nights when temperatures drop below freezing. The HHHC wants community organizations and agencies to offer any facilities they have for these emergency shelters, which the HHHC will staff with trained personnel. For more info, or to offer a facility as an emergency extreme weather shelter, call 441-2516.


Bring on the crab
Why you didn't get your Christmas crustaceans this year


On one point, everyone's agreed. There's loads of plump, delicious Dungeness crab crawling around off the Humboldt County coast, and they've been ready for weeks, just waiting for the fleet to sail out, scoop them up and bring them on home.

The question that remains: Why haven't we been eating them, then?

In the last month, the California Department of Fish and Game, in consultation with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, has twice delayed the traditional December opening of crab season on the North Coast. Not because the crabs here aren't ready for harvest, but because a few of the fish tested in the Del Norte/southern Oregon area were deemed unready.

But why was our season shut down because of problems up north? For "Cap'n" Zach Rotwein, proprietor of Cap'n Zach's Crab House in McKinleyville, there's no good reason at all -- just big money and politics getting in the way of a good crabbing season.

"This thing just stinks to high hell," Rotwein said last week.

The reason? When, earlier this month, the date was pushed back for the second time, the decision was made on a conference call to which, according to Rotwein, he and other small buyers were not invited to participate. According to several people familiar with the conference in question, though, the big gorilla of the local industry -- the interstate conglomerate Pacific Choice Seafoods, which has been at war with crabbers over pricing for several of the past few years -- did get a full seat at the table.

According to Rotwein, in years past Pacific Choice has been willing to accept a small percentage of substandard crab, figuring that into cost of doing business. But this year, for whatever reason, the company chose the poor numbers from a pocket up north to lobby Fish and Game to delay the season. This, he said, has had a devastating effect on local crab fishermen, wholesalers and consumers.

"What kind of repercussion did this have on the industry?" Rotwein asked. "Every crab buyer depends on Dec. 15 through Dec. 31 to make a living in this fishery. That's when demand is so high that you can call your price." While Rotwein and other local markets have been able to import some crab from the Bay Area, it hardly makes up for the frenzied abundance of the opening of crab season locally. And it does nothing at all for local fisherman.

With Christmas come and gone, Rotwein figures that a good portion of the demand for crab will have gone with it -- leaving the already strapped local crab industry in even harder straights.

But Pete Leipzig, executive director of the Eureka-based Fisherman's Marketing Association, said that while it may be painful for local crab lovers, delaying the season from was a reasonable option, given the state of the crab up north.

Leipzig noted that under current rules, the California coast is divided into zones, with everything from Point Arena in Mendocino County north to the Oregon border belonging to the same zone. If regulators decide to delay fishing in one part of a zone, they have to delay the entirety.

"In California, the Department of Fish and Game doesn't have the authority to open part of [one zone]," he said. "No one can say, `OK, open the season from Trinidad south,' It's all or nothing." And if the prices are poor in one part of the zone, Leipzig said, that depresses the prices fishermen will receive up and down the west coast.

The long wait is likely nearing an end. If everything goes according to plan, Rotwein and other crabbers should be setting their pots today (Dec. 29), and Humboldt County crab should be hitting your local market by Saturday -- just in time for New Years' Eve parties, salvaging just a bit of the holiday season for crab lovers.

For Rotwein, that's hardly enough. He's asking people to contact local legislators to make sure that delays like this don't reoccur.

"Unless the public cries foul, in the next two or three years you're going to see the same thing happen again," he said. "If you want to see frozen crab as a holiday tradition, don't complain."



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