Crustaceans back on crabbers’ good side

Dungeness crabs are staging a comeback.

Crabbers are catching the crustaceans in greater numbers this holiday season.

Dungeness crab populations grow and decline in cycles, and last season’s harvest was the worst in nearly a decade.

“Last year must have been the bottom of the cycle,” Crab Boat Owners Association of San Francisco President Larry Collins said Sunday. “We’re starting back up.”

Local crabbers catch their prey in baited pots off the coast and toss back crabs that are too small to be kept or sold.

As the population recovers from the recent low point, crabbers this season are catching many that have just grown big enough to keep, according to Collins.

“They’re small — they’re just getting legal,” he said. “It’s better than we expected, and definitely better than it was last year.”

The weather has generally been favorable for crabbers this season, and the fishermen are being paid more money for the meat than they were paid last season, according to Collins.

The crab fishery grew in importance for local fishermen in recent years as salmon and herring populations crashed, prompting California to suspend commercial fishing of those species.

This season’s Dungeness crab harvests also have benefited fish traders and crab-adoring diners.

“Everything is good,” said Angela Cincotta, a trader for Alioto-Lazio Fish Co. “There are no problems.”

Although crabbing will continue until June 30, most are caught in the early portion of the season, which started in mid-November and is when most consumers gorge themselves on the shellfish.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

Dungeness harvests in the past 10 years

2008-09, 1.1 million pounds

2007-08, 3.6 million pounds

2006-07, 6.0 million pounds

2005-06, 6.0 million pounds

2004-05, 6.1 million pounds

2003-04, 5.3 million pounds

2002-03, 4.3 million pounds

2001-02, 1.7 million pounds

2000-01, 1.7 million pounds

1999-2000, 0.9 million pounds

Source: California Department of Fish and Game

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