Getty Images file photoDeclawed: Crab fishermen are having trouble settling with buyers on rates

Getty Images file photoDeclawed: Crab fishermen are having trouble settling with buyers on rates

Alack, there’s no crab to crack on Thanksgiving

A pricing dispute between crab boat owners and purchasers will keep the local crustaceans off Thanksgiving tables this year.

Boats haven’t left the San Francisco, Half Moon Bay or Bodega Bay docks since the official season opened last week, and they likely won’t until buyers meet the $2.50 per pound price sought by crabbers. Purchasers say they won’t pay more than $2 per pound for Dungeness.

“Expenses are three times what they used to be and the price [per pound] has remained the same,” said Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association.

Last year, the price for fresh Dungeness was $1.75 per pound, but fishermen brought in a whopping 19 million pounds — in the 2008-09 season, they only caught 1.1 million pounds. By last season’s end, the crustaceans were fetching $4 per pound.

Collins said regardless of the harvest size, however, the prices of diesel, bait and traps have increased and fishermen should be paid more for their work.

“I really hate it when people can’t get their Thanksgiving crab,” he said. “But we have to get paid.”

While Thanksgiving is a big Dungeness holiday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and even the Super Bowl feature more crab-centric foods, according to Collins. There’s still time for the dispute to end to meet those demands.

But John Minaidis Jr., owner of the Half Moon Bay Fish Market, said the dispute is hurting business.

“People have their minds set on making cioppino,” he said. “You can’t make cioppino without fresh crab meat.”

The pricing dispute has become commonplace in recent years, Minaidis said. Last year, a similar dispute delayed the first batch of crab, he said. And in November 2007, the Cosco Busan oil spill tainted the fishing season.

“If it’s not a discrepancy in prices, it’s an oil spill,” Minaidis said. “There’s been a problem the last three years.”

Collins said he could only recall three previous times in the 23 years he’s been crabbing that Dungeness wasn’t available for Thanksgiving. But he said he’s expecting a good season once the pricing dispute is worked out.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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