Wednesday, November 23, 2011
While the vast majority of households in the U.S. look forward to a nice turkey this Thanksgiving, many residents of the greater Bay Area anticipate dunking fresh Dungeness crab in melted butter.
But this year there may be an empty space where the crab platter usually sits.
Due to price disagreements between fishermen and crab buyers, the Central Coast crab fleet had yet to pull a pot by the Weekly’s deadline, despite the season starting Nov. 15.
“It takes a week to 10 days to advertise and get [the crab] to market. At this stage of the game it doesn’t look like we’ll go fishing before Thanksgiving,” says Mike Ricketts, president of the Monterey Commercial Fisherman’s Association.
Central Coast crab fishermen joined together in sitting out this season’s opening to pressure buyers to raise prices from last year’s opening price of $1.75 a pound to what they say is a more realistic $2.50. Buyers came up to $2.00 a pound, but most fishermen say that isn’t enough to cover their rising fuel and gear costs.
The stalemate couldn’t have come at a worse time for fishermen. Dungeness crab was one of the most valuable state fisheries in 2010, with a value of $41.2 million before processing. Many fishermen are still trying to make up for a sub-par salmon season.
Although there were a few small buyers willing to pay $2.50 per pound, they simply don’t have the resources to process enough crab to serve the entire fleet like the large buyers can.
“The buyers have all the control… They can hold off for as long as they want to,” says Jane DeLay, a crabber and well-known local purveyor of holiday Dungeness. “We need this Thanksgiving market, but the big buyer has Costco and Whole Foods, and he can just freeze it and have crab all year long.”