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Fishing for a holiday meal: Commercial crab season in full gear, locals concerned fishery could dry up
November 18, 2014, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal

Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Commercial fisherman Jim Anderson sells some of the first commercially caught crab on the entire West Coast during Saturday’s season opening at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.

Crowds line the dock and pier to purchase crab from Anderson.

Hundreds of crab lovers lined the docks at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay this weekend to bring home some of the season’s first commercial harvest.

Buckets and coolers in tow, people formed a line spanning the pier as fishermen fresh from Saturday’s midnight opening sold hundreds of crab directly off their boats.

“Opening weekend was a lot of people, a lot of boats, a lot of crab and everyone seemed happy with a smile on their faces, so that was nice,” said Jim Anderson, a commercial salmon and crab fisherman and captain of the F/V Allaine.

Crab lovers enjoy venturing to the coast for a visit, meeting the fishermen and taking home live seafood. Anderson, who alone drew a weekend crowd that lined up the ramp to the dock and down the pier, and said he anticipates the market to stay strong throughout the week.

The seasonal harvest coincides with the holidays and makes an extremely popular meal, Anderson said.

“It’s a really nice product and it’s really fun, one of the reasons I like it is because it’s really messy. … You can’t eat it fast, so it’s a wonderful social meal because everybody’s picking and chewing and talking and having fun making a mess,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of a let your hair down and have some fun kind of meal.”

The fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor have agreed to start selling at $6 per pound off the boat and those who’ve ventured fishing have had plentiful first pulls, Anderson said. However, with the Bay Area’s waters being the only commercially accessible crabbing fishery on the entire West Coast in the month of November, things could dry up quick, Anderson said.

The southern District 10, which spans from just south of Mendocino County to Santa Cruz, begins its crabbing season Nov. 15. Everywhere else in California, Oregon and Washington, commercial crabbers can’t throw their traps until Dec. 1 or later.

Larger boats from as far as Alaska travel to the Bay Area to participate in this derby-style fishery and with most of the catchable crab gone in the first six to eight weeks, some locals are pondering how they’ll last through the season.

“There’s a lot of pots in the water so everyone’s getting a healthy first pull, but it’s dropping off on the second,” Anderson said. “When all the fleets come in locally and mop up the fishery, that leaves the local fisherman … trying to make his whole yearly crab season in a couple weeks.”

Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Commercial Fishermen’s Association, said the crab fishery at District 10 appears to be more bountiful this year than in other parts of the state and is drawing crowds.

“It looks like pretty abundant crab. There’s a lot of boats, more boats down here than I’ve ever seen,” Collins said. “Everybody’s down here, so that’s a lot of pressure.”

New laws

The 2014-15 season is the second year in which there are state-mandated crab pot limits whereby a tiered system permits fishermen to only have between 175 and 500 pots in the water at a time.

The Dungeness Crab Task Force, made up of industry representatives and wildlife officials, helped enact the new laws that have long been in place in other states. Anderson, who represents Half Moon Bay on the task force, said one struggle local fisherman sought to remedy with little success was to create a statewide start date.

“The harvest management plan started with the pot law. [We also wanted] some kind of an even pull harvest management plan that was to try to lengthen [the season] out so we have crab for Christmas,” Anderson said. “They’re going to have to truck in all the crab for Christmas if the locals trying to fish down here for the Christmas market don’t have a lot.”

The north and south divide was quickly evident at the task force’s meeting a few weeks ago, leaving them unable to agree on aligning District 10’s kickoff date with the rest of the West Coast, Anderson said.

The task force did discuss possible changes and individual harbors and ports are looking to address leftover or lost crabbing gear. Pillar Point Harbor will be implementing a program this year to collect derelict pots left in the water, Anderson said. Because all pots are tagged and the property of a particular fisherman, it’s legally difficult to remove them midseason, Anderson said. So many of the ports and harbors are working to find funding and enact programs that will retrieve derelict pots after the season closes, Anderson said.

Multi-million industry

There’s a lot to gain and commercial fishermen are hungry to take a piece of the multi-million dollar industry. Last year, more than 17 million pounds of crab were landed throughout the state and generated nearly $60 million, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The San Mateo County Harbor District, which owns Pillar Point Harbor, also takes in a piece of commercial crab season by earning off-loading fees from those selling wholesale. Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2013, the district took in almost $10,000, primarily from crab being offloaded, according to the district.

Crabbers were able to settle with wholesale buyers on a $3 per pound price but, similar to the $6 per pound off the boat price, that could change throughout the season.

With laws in place, start prices negotiated and a strong beginning fishery in District 10, it’s time to reel in the season.

“I think the pot limits are working and everybody’s working. The crab looks really nice,” Collins said. “It’s crab season, that means it’s party season. It’s that time of year, when the crab comes in, it feels like it’s getting close to the holidays and it’s time for everyone to sit down and enjoy some crab together.”

The price per pound will vary throughout the season. For up-to-date information on which boats are selling, download the free app FishLine: Fresh Local Sustainable Seafood from the iTunes store.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106



Tags: anderson, season, district, boats, commercial, fishery,

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