Stormy seas hamper Dungeness crab harvest for North Bay fleet
Mother Nature is dishing up another delay in the local Dungeness harvest, meaning fresh-caught crab is unlikely to hit local markets in time for New Year’s celebrations.
The latest hitch in the thrice-delayed crab season for the North Bay is the weather forecast, with encroaching storms making the Saturday season opener miserable, if not outright hazardous, for the crab fleet.
Winds off the Sonoma Coast are set to reach 28 mph early Saturday and 32 mph by midday, giving way to 8-foot swells, the National Weather Service confirmed.
“We have a collision of two masses,” meteorologist Rick Canepa said.
Bodega Bay crab fisherman Dick Ogg labeled the forecast “treacherous.”
The series of storms could make Tuesday, the “first reasonable” day to go to sea and drop crab pots, Ogg said.
As for heading out Saturday, “Some guys will try. It’s possible. God bless ‘em,” Ogg said. “But even if they get the crab, it may not reach the market until (January) second.”
Sal Svedise, general manager of Santa Rosa Seafood, agreed.
Adding to the crab fishers’ litany of obstacles, the wholesale price is still being negotiated between the fleet and seafood suppliers, with an opening price that could be lower than usual. Without an agreement, the harvest could face further delay.
Svedise said he will offer around $3.50 a pound but is aware of prices being floated around closer to $2, which is “not worth going out for.”
He’s expecting the boats to be back to port with crab Tuesday or Wednesday.
Oliver’s Markets in Sonoma County is still waiting for word from its supplier, Tides Wharf in Bodega Bay, on when boat crews will venture, according to Todd Davis, the grocer’s meat and seafood coordinator.
“With such rough seas, if they ever go out, they may not be expecting to get anything,” Davis said.
Tony Anello, a buyer and veteran fisherman who runs Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay, said, “It’s the first time in 52 years (crab fishers) go out without a (set) price.”
Last year, the price was $4.50 a pound, about half of what the fleet sought.
Anello is staying onshore for the opener, but his son Mark plans to go out Saturday. If he is successful, his father is hopeful to have crab to sell that day.
After a nearly six-week postponement in the typical season opener to safeguard migrating whales and allow for crabs to beef up, consumers are ready to start their Dungeness feasts, Svedise indicated.
“Everybody is asking for crab, about every other call,” he said.
But Mike Weinberg-Lynn, who runs Osprey Seafood Co. in Napa said he’s discovered requests for crab waning since state wildlife officials delayed the season opening.
“I think people are done with it. With Christmas not having crab and with the whole whale situation, people are losing interest,” he said.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the fleet to stay onshore when the whales remained in the area feasting on an abundance of anchovies. And this year, they can only go out with half their pots.
Instead of focusing on crab, Weinberg-Lynn expanded his offerings to other seafood delicacies, such as salmon, “which flies off the shelf,” he said.
And now there’s a desire for more caviar. He’s even purchased a special refrigerator especially for caviar, which he buys from California Caviar out of Sausalito.
“People are trying to do something special (for the holidays),” California Caviar Co. owner Deborah Keane said.
During the peak of the pandemic, Keane’s caviar business sold more online, when more people fixed their meals at home. That business model quickly shifted to her restaurant accounts, when diners returned to the restaurants. Now the retail-to-wholesale ratio falls at about 50-50.
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Reach Wood at 530-545-8662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to correct a misspelling in Tony Anello’s last name.