2006 crab season looks like a go

Fishermen face lower prices per pound, but hope to avoid another year of strikes

With less than four weeks until the local Dungeness crab season opens, commercial fishermen say a repeat of last year’s strike appears unlikely, but rock bottom pricing by processors could still disrupt the season.

Many Bay Area fishermen kept their boats docked for two weeks after the Nov. 15 season opening last year, forcing Bay Area residents who enjoy crab at Thanksgiving to buy the tasty crustacean from out of state. The strike was a result of low prices offered by processors, which has squeezed many fishermen, according to Larry Collins, vice-president of the Crab Boat Owners Association of San Francisco, which represents about 30 boats.

Bay Area fishermen went on strike when Pacific Seafood originally offered $1.50 a pound for crab, before upping it to $1.75. “We were making $1.75 a pound in 1985 and our costs for bait, equipment and fuel have only gone up,” Collins said Friday.

Since Pacific Seafood moved in four years ago, fishermen have complained of a major drop from the $2-plus per pound prices they were used to in the late 1990s.

Additionally, Bay Area fisherman are competing with commercial boats from Oregon that have invaded the Bay Area with as many as 2,000 pots, or crab cages, compared to most locals handling about 250 pots, said Duncan MacLean, a boat owner and president of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association.

It’s the “Wal-Marting” of the local fishing industry, said MacLean, who represents about 35 boats based in Half Moon Bay. “It’s sad, because [fishing] used to be a lifestyle and now it’s just another business, and not a real lucrative business at that.”

Pacific Seafood didn’t return a call requesting comment of crab prices by deadline.

Nonetheless, MacLean anticipates there will be crab on Bay Area residents’ tables come Thanksgiving. Local fishermen are hoping for $2 to $2.25 per pound for crab this season, MacLean said. “The indicators are that productionis going to be very similar to last year and the price could be a little better.”

A major reason for the rosier outlook is the small amount of frozen crab in many processors’ inventory this year, which is likely to translate into higher demand when the commercial season opens, Collins said. Commercial fishermen will have a better sense of how many pounds they’re likely to land when the sport-fishing season opens Nov. 11. Last year California commercial fisherman landed 23.8 million pounds of crab, down from 24.6 in 2004.

Charter boat operator Tom Mattusch, who caters to sports fishermen, said he is already starting to book dates for crabbing. “The season is looking good, people are looking for a good time on the water following the shortened salmon fishing season,” Mattusch said.

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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