By: Susan Chambers,

Oregon and Washington Dungeness crab is finally hitting retail outlets on the West Coast after a month-long season delay though it’s unclear how long the bonanza will last – and when California will get to fish.

On Tuesday, one day after fishermen began pulling their pots, some crabbers reported as few as three crab per pot; others said they had 50 per pot. “It just depends on where you’re at,” Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission Executive Director Hugh Link said. “A lot of guys are moving their gear.”

A storm Tuesday with large swells complicated matters, as fishermen had to move their pots out of shallow water so they don’t get tangled, lost or washed ashore. Small and medium-sized vessels are waiting for the swells to subside to go fishing again.

The disruption may give processors a little time to put up some frozen pack, while still meeting demand. The opening ex-vessel price for crab in Oregon was $2.90 per pound.

“There appears to be a strong demand,” Link said, noting that customers coastwide are anxious for crab, “particularly for traditional crab feeds.”

And that’s keeping some hopes alive for the California crab industry.

Levels of domoic acid, which delayed the fisheries in all three West Coast states, seems to be decreasing in California. Tests from Dec. 27 in some areas in Half Moon Bay, San Francisco and Bodega Bay showed average levels of domoic acid were below the 30 parts-per-million threshold. However, those have to be confirmed with another test at least a week later. California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Pete Kalvass said crab testing is being done on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

California processors and retailers, like Alioto-Lazio Fish Company at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, are hopeful California crabbers can set gear soon and capitalize on the weeklong Super Bowl festivities leading up to the game on Sunday, Feb. 7, in the Bay Area.

“Sales are down,” said Angela Cincotta at Alioto-Lazio, who was able to source crab from other areas during the holidays. “Trying to sell Dungeness crab is one of the hardest things we do. … Christmas sales were off by 75 percent. Returning customers came to support us and keep their Christmas traditions alive.”

Cincotta noted that most of their regular customers understand that Alioto-Lazio wouldn’t sell seafood that isn’t safe to eat, but new customers are sometimes turned off by the media reports and press disseminated by the state agencies.

“We are hoping the ban will lift before all the Super Bowl parties, but there is no guarantee that anyone will want to eat Dungeness crab by then,” Cincotta said. “People come to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the boats at work.”

Reprinted with permission of

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