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Other organizations have looked past the crab in their worst-case planning. "We were just saying how we're going to have to do something else," says Kim Henson, chair of the Penngrove Social Firemen, which raises money for the local fire department. Henson, whose son is a San Francisco crabber, says the organization is talking about a steak dinner in Penngrove Park as an alternative to its February crab feed.
This isn't the organization's biggest fundraiser, says Henson, but adds that the Rancho Adobe fire department in Penngrove hosts a crab feed and fundraiser that it has come to rely on for purchasing equipment. The crab shutdown, she says, "will impact them greatly. They make around $10,000 a year and use it to buy critical equipment they need."
In order to reopen the fisheries, state health officials need to see a two-week trend that would show that levels of the acid had dropped below 30 ppm. The OEHHA says it has been encouraged by the most recent tests undertaken by state health officials. "Thus far they remain above [30 ppm], but there has been some sign of improvement," says Sam Delson, deputy director at OEHHA. "These crabs do process [domoic acid] through their system, but they have a slow metabolism."
Time's running out for the Novato Horsemen, which hosts an annual Valentine's Day crab feed in February. "We haven't made a decision, but we'll have to make it by [this] week," says Scott Colvin, a board member and past chairman of the organization's crab committee. He's not especially optimistic. "I don't think we are doing it," he says. Even if he season were to reopen, Colvin says, "the price of crab will be so astronomical—the numbers I'm hearing are up to $15 a pound."
The Novato Horsemen event has been going on for at least 20 years, Colvin says, and worked with a broker in years past to supply the crab. "We've got to get on the phone with him," he says. "This is a yearly deal, people call us and they expect us to do the crab. We're kind of sitting here waiting and hoping for the best. It's our first fundraiser of the year, and we usually make about $5,000 that we can put toward feed in our cattle program. We're talking spaghetti, but we're not going to make the money with that," Colvin says.
As feed organizers fret, the state continues with its work as it emphasizes public safety. "We certainly sympathize with organizations that have a cherished tradition of holiday crab feeds," Delson says. "We know that it's a big tradition, and we certainly hope that the acid levels will reach a level where we can make a recommendation. I can't say when that will be, and public health and safety is the overriding priority."
The Bolinas Community Center is a relative newcomer to the crab-feed scene, having hosted two in recent years, but development director Randi Arnold says that the feeds quickly became the center's leading fundraiser after its annual Labor Day blowout, netting $4,000 in 2013 and then about $14,000 the following year.
The center has already shifted gears to a blues-and-barbecue theme for its late January event, which, like all these events, takes months to organize and begins with contacting fishermen or fish brokers, and getting enough crab commitments to feed the crowd. The center sold 140 tickets to its last feed.
"We decided that it wasn't worth the risk to put all that work into it if the crabs aren't going to be edible," Arnold says. "But we're not set in stone. If by Dec. 31 it is lifted, crab would be our preference."
Traverso stresses that the state is sympathetic to the crab-feed conundrum but isn't lifting the ban until it's safe to do so for everyone. "It would be awful if a number of people got sick at a fundraising event due to domoic acid," she says.
State Sen. Mike McGuire has called a public meeting on Dec. 3 to address the ongoing crab crisis, from 3pm to 6pm at the Steele Lane Community Center in Santa Rosa.