Crab season casts off under agreement

Fishermen from Monterey to Bodega Bay headed out to sea Tuesday for the opening of the local Dungeness crab season after negotiations delayed the majority of the boats’ launches.

In a show of unity, many area fishermen delayed setting out until bout 12 p.m. Tuesday — six hours after state law allows — in hopes that San Francisco-based fishermen would convince food processor Pacific Choice to pay $2 a pound, the same amount fishermen from Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay were offered by their processors. In the end, San Francisco settled for $1.85, said Larry Collins, vice-president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, which represents about 30 boats.

The two-tiered pricing structure could mean many fishermen — including those from Half Moon and Bodega bays — receive closer to $1.85 as a result of competition, Collins said. “Two dollars [a pound] would have been better, but we’ve got to get to work,” he said.

Altogether, about 150 boats from Monterey to Bodega Bay headed out to drop their pots Tuesday, fishermen said. The first crabs are expected to be landed this afternoon.

Many Bay Area fishermen kept their boats docked for two weeks after the Nov. 15 opening a year ago, forcing Bay Area residents who enjoy crab at Thanksgiving to buy the tasty crustaceans from out of state. Last year’s strike was a result of low prices that have squeezed many fishermen in recent years, said Duncan MacLean, a boat owner and president of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association, which represents about 35 boats.

Bay Area fishermen went on strike when Pacific Seafood, the area’s largest buyer and processor, offered $1.50 a pound for crab, before bumping it to $1.75 after the peak Thanksgiving season, MacLean said.

A major reason for last year’s low prices was an overstock of frozen crab by processors, which translated into lower demand for fresh crab, Collins said. There is very little overstock this year, MacLean said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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