The recreational Dungeness crab season began over the weekend south of the Mendocino County line, but the commercial season opener has been pushed back a week to Nov. 22.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife delayed the commercial season in an effort to prevent whales and other wildlife from getting entangled in fishing lines. The move will give whales extra time to vacate the area as they migrate south.
Despite the late start, commercial fishermen are optimistic about the season based what the recreational fishermen have caught so far. Local fisherman Frank Souza dropped his crab pots off Half Moon Bay over the weekend and said the ones he caught tasted sweet and buttery and are close to ideal size.
“Some of the crab they caught have been full and some are just a tiny bit light but they should be just perfect by the time we open,” he said. “I imagine it’ll be a normal season. The guys are anticipating this year to be significantly better than last year, but not a record year by any means.”
Souza avoided the Bay Area entirely last season because crabs were mostly undersized here and instead dropped his pots in waters around Crescent City.
It was a lively and crowded scene for the recreational opener at Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor, Souza said.
“It was packed, there were no parking stalls anywhere and trailers parked all the way down Highway 1,” he said. “There were people cooking crab in the parking lot and everyone seemed real happy.”
The excitement is beginning to spread to the commercial fishermen as well.
“We’re eager to get out there for commercial,” he said. “Everyone’s finishing last-minute preparations.”
The recreational opener did come with a warning from state health officials not to eat internal organs or guts of crabs caught in an area in Humboldt County and between Point Reyes and Pillar Point because of domoic acid. This byproduct of algae blooms is poisonous and can cause diarrhea or vomiting when eaten.
But Souza dismissed the warning and said it was only issued because one crab in San Francisco was found was found with “slightly elevated” levels of domoic acid before a follow-up test last week came back clean.
He added that crabs tested in Half Moon Bay came back “squeaky clean.”
“No one should be concerned about domoic acid at all,” Souza said.
While early indications seem promising for the season, Souza is confident that it again will end prematurely, though Fish and Game’s website currently says the season will extend through June 30. Last year, the season ended several months early in April because of a lawsuit relating to insufficient protections for whales. As a result, Fish and Wildlife must apply for a new permit that could take four to six years to secure, Souza said, adding that until the permit is in place, the commercial crab season will end in April.
“We need that season to be as long as it was,” Souza said. “Some guys don’t have salmon permits and spring crab is very important to their livelihoods and that’s going to hurt for awhile.”
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