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Dungeness Crab Season Kicks Off Today — Are You Excited?

Coast Guard officials says that crab fishing is one of the most deadly of all West Coast commercial fisheries because of the way fishermen fish for the crabs.

Commercial crab fishermen are gearing up for the opening of crab season, with vessels large and small starting to assemble pots up and down the Bay Area coast, including in the harbor at Sausalito, to catch Dungeness crabs.

The season, which opens each year on Nov. 15 from the Central Coast up to the North Bay's Russian River, comes 13 days after recreational fishermen headed into the water to catch the crustaceans. The season runs through June 2013.

As of Dec. 1, the season will open for the northern coast up to the Oregon border.

Crab fishermen will get $3 a pound for their catch, meaning retail consumers may pay more than twice that, according to fisherman Larry Collins, head of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association, told the Marin Independent Journal.

According to 11th Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel safety specialist Peggy Murphy, who is based out of Alameda, the Coast Guard has been out in force prior to Thursday's start of the season performing safety inspections.

"We go out and saturate all of the docks and harbors that have commercial crab fisherman," Murphy said. "We offer them safety checks to make sure safety gear is working properly and they have what's required by federal law."

Any fisherman going beyond 3 miles from the coast is required to have a dockside exam in port, she said, which results in many mandated inspections.

Murphy said the checks occur year-round but are particularly concentrated before the start of crab season.

She highlighted that crab fishing is one of the most deadly of all West Coast commercial fisheries because of the way fishermen fish for the crabs.

She said the way fishermen maneuver and lift the pots full of crabs, confounded with vessels laden with heavy pots that make the boat unstable, and winter weather conditions, make for a dangerous combination while crabbing.

"There's a lot of pressure to get out there and do it and get pots out there," she said about the frenzy at the start of the season.

This is the last year that commercial boats will have an unlimited pot count. By the 2013-14 season, limits will be in place based on vessel size and capacity.

"The idea is that it's safer," she said.

Pillar Point Harbor patrol officials said their office is directing traffic today as everyone sets up pots on their boats in the popular Half Moon Bay crabbing spot in anticipation of the midnight opening.

Other areas that see increased boating traffic during the first few weeks of the crab season include Bodega Bay, the Santa Cruz coast and in San Francisco waters. The patrol office said the various vessels, ranging from smaller boats with 25 pots and a minimal crew to bigger commercial ships with 500 pots and many fishermen aboard, are offered protection from the harbor patrol once they've passed inspection with the Coast Guard.

Often the boats and fishermen must deal with mechanical problems and bad weather, while trying to out-catch the competition.

Harbor officials said the frantic pace to catch crabs at the start of the season tapers off within the first two to three weeks and is fairly slow by Christmas.

Crab season opens at this time of year based on when the Dungeness crabs have completed molting and grown into their hard shells.

More information about Dungeness crab season can be found here.

--Bay City News Service

Robert J. Cleek November 15, 2012 at 09:49 PM
"...to catch Dungeness crabs." "...when the Dungeness crabs have completed molting..." Just a minor point from the grammar Nazi: When referring to food generally, the singular form is used: "We are having crab for dinner." or "They are fishing for crab." When referring to individual animals in a non-food context,, the plural is used: "There are three crabs in that tide pool." or even "There are a lot of crabs in the sea." But again, if referring to food, "They are catching a lot of crab this season." When not referring to food, the plural is used: "I have crabs in my underwear." Got it?
Mitch November 16, 2012 at 05:23 AM
California Department of Fish and Game News Nov. 14, Commercial Dungeness Crab Season Delayed off North Coast The commercial Dungeness crab season north of Sonoma County will be delayed at least two weeks to allow crabs more time to grow to ensure they are of suitable quality. The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) delayed the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season after tests showed crabs in the area lacked the required body mass. The decision means the scheduled Dec. 1 opening will be pushed back at least two weeks and possibly longer if the crabs need more time to mature. The central California commercial Dungeness crab season is set to open on schedule Nov. 15. The North Coast crab fishery is subject to tests to ensure the crabs are not harvested "Crabs ready for harvest should contain 25 percent of their body weight as meat. In tests performed two weeks ago, crabs from the North Coast contained only 16-18 percent body mass," Juhasz added. Additional testing will be done in December, and depending on those results a further delay could be ordered. A similar delay was implemented last year off the North Coast. "Crabs from the Central Coast do not fall under the same restrictions and so their season will open as normal on Nov. 15. Fresh crab should then be immediately available to consumers, provided the fishermen and the markets can agree on market prices," Juhasz said.
Ian November 16, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Had no idea it was such a dangerous occupation.

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