Not so fast, crabbers: Weather disagrees

Local crabbers were frustrated over the weekend as dangerous winds and choppy seas kept many of them landlocked following a two-week ban on fishing in the wake of the Cosco Busan fuel spill.

The local crab season was scheduled to open Nov. 15, but the 58,000 gallons of shipping fuel that poured into the Bay after the container ship tore open its hull against the Bay Bridge on Nov. 7 contained high levels of cancer-causing chemicals called aromatic hydrocarbons.

On Nov. 13, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger banned fishing in the Bay and coastal waters outside the Golden Gate until state officials could test the safety of seafood caught in the spill zone. The fishing suspension left open most of the region’s Dungeness fishery, but local crabbers agreed to stay out of the water until tests showed that the catch was safe. Many seafood processors and restaurants had refused to buy Bay Area crab because they were worried about tainted crustaceans.

Test results released Thursday by the California Department of Fish and Game showed that the toxins were undetectable, or present in levels considered safe, in crabs and fish caught inside and outside the Bay. State officials tested more than 1,100 samples of surf perch, herring, mussels and Dungeness crab collected from different parts of the Bay and a 3-mile-wide stretch of coastal water from Point Reyes to San Mateo County.

But strong winds kept many crab boats tied up to San Francisco docks Friday, Saturday and Sunday, delaying the arrival of local crab to plates of San Franciscans. The National Weather Service has warned small boats to again stay off the water today.

“Almost all of our guys got out [Saturday],” Larry Collins, president of San Francisco’s Crab Boat Owners Association, said Sunday afternoon. “But the wind’s coming up, so nobody’s pulled anything.”

Business has been slow at Fisherman’s Grotto, according to owner Gus Geraldi, who said the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant is selling crabs from places such as Eureka and Washington state for upwards of $8.50 a pound.

“Business is down,” Geraldi said. “It’s quiet.”

If local crabbers bring in decent catches before Christmas Eve — one of the biggest days at Fisherman’s Wharf — then crabbers and retailers should recover some of their Thanksgiving losses, according to Geraldi.

Examiner Staff Writer Brent Begin contributed to this report.

jupton@examiner.com

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