The commercial Dungeness crab season in Central California opened Nov. 14 and started off great, until the weather took a turn and kept boats in port. The market is hungry for crabs, and consumers are paying top dollar to start the season.
Commercial fishing boats steamed back to port with full loads after the first haul of crabs. The market had a strong appetite for crabs, with a negotiated price to start at $3 per pound from wholesalers. The price may triple by the time crabs make it to market. Consumers may pay up to $10 a crab off the dock.
The price was so strong from wholesale markets, many commercial boats simply unloaded to the local buyers and wanted to steam back out for more.
Mother Nature had different plans, however. The first winter storms hit the coast shortly after the season started, and many boats ended up tied to the docks.
Santa Cruz Harbor is also under construction with more tsunami repairs. Some commercial boats that sell crabs off the dock have moved to new docks. If consumers want to buy holiday crabs from the harbor, they may want to secure a source in advance and have a backup plan, too, like buying crabs from a market.
This season’s Dungeness crab forecast is expected to be a bit weaker than last year’s. During the 2011 season, fishermen harvested 32 million pounds of Dungeness crabs in California.
Crabs grow in cycles, and the harvest stocks may be lower, but early results from sport fishermen and the first haul from commercial fishermen both look promising.
Many larger commercial crab boats did not migrate down here from Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, because of high counts expected to the north. But the most recent sample of crab taken in Northern California proved the crabs have only a 15 percent meat mass-to-body ratio, and that number is too low to start the harvest.
The soonest the season may start to the north is Dec. 15, and it could be postponed longer if the Dungeness do not start to fill in.
It is good to see healthy stocks of crab and a strong market price. I hope the crabs are being managed properly for future stocks. I also hope crab lovers get their share of tasty crabs for the holiday season.
- Mike Baxter has fished in the Monterey Bay Area since he was a boy and has been a licensed charter boat captain for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.