Crab fishermen settle dispute
By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.
North Coast fishermen planned to resume crab fishing today after buyers agreed to increase the price to $3 a pound.
By Thursday, fresh local crab should be back in markets.
It is the same price that fishermen were getting when the season opened Nov. 15 on the Central Coast, from Morro Bay to the Gualala River.
“It is a fair price for everyone,” said Chuck Cappotto, president of the Fisherman’s Marketing Association in Bodega Bay, which set today’s resumption of the crab season.
Fishermen in Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay stopped fishing Dec. 2 after the price dropped to $2.50 a pound when demand softened after Thanksgiving.
“The best part is the three ports stood together,” said fisherman Tony Anello of the Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay. “We were not asking for the moon, we were just asking to maintain the price.”
Fishermen said the wholesale price dropped because there was an overabundance of crab on the market following Thanksgiving, a holiday after which demand usually falls off until Christmas and New Years.
“For some of the major buyers, there was a glut that came in all at one time and they had to go into the freezer for a short term,” Anello said.
Buyer Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries in Santa Rosa, said that excess goes into the frozen market, which is much more price sensitive.
The demand for fresh crab has picked up again, Lucas said.
“Now the market is clear, it is clean again and the market is again hungry for crab, which is what it should be leading up to Christmas,” Lucas said.
A delay in the crab season north of the Gualala River until after Jan. 1, which is designed to give those crab more time to mature, strengthened the fishermen’s bargaining position.
“Our crabs here are the only crabs on the West Coast for the holidays,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Chris Lawson.
The agreement ensures there will be fresh local crab for Christmas and New Years. The majority of crabs are caught within the first few weeks of the season.
“We have two more weeks and this area will be a done deal,” Lawson said. “On the average, you catch half the season (total) in the first few weeks.”
Fishermen are having a good year, but the catch is not expected to be as good as last year when 31.6 million pounds of crab were caught in California, valued at $94.8 million. It was the biggest catch in 100 years.
In 2010, 27.5 million pounds were caught, valued at $56.8 million.
“There is more crab than I thought there would be, but maybe half, 40 percent, of what was around last year,” Lawson said. “We are on the decline, on the back side of a cycle.”