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Crab prices jump as catch lags

By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

Commercial seafood buyers are paying up to $2.20 a pound for Dungeness crab, as the first catches this week show the ocean floor isn't crawling with the tasty crustaceans.

Not all buyers are paying the same price, however. Prices range price from $1.85 to $2.20 a pound.

Wayne Gavin of Alber Seafood said the catch is "way down" from last year's record season, which yielded 11.5 million pounds worth $18 million — the third highest season on record for California's northernmost port, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

"It's not so hot (this year)," Gavin said.

He said Friday morning that the seafood company purchased 150,000 pounds since Tuesday — which is nothing compared to last year, when they were taking in 200,000 pounds a night.

And fishermen — whose livelihood depends on what the ocean produces and what buyers pay for it, have been "grumpy" after working all day without much to show for it, Gavin said.

Bill Carvalho of Carvalho Fisheries said his seafood company has raised the price 10 cents a day and was paying $2 a pound Friday.

"We saw that we were able to raise the market value and raise the sales and pass that on to fishermen," he said.

And though the season isn't as healthy as last year, the demand is still there, keeping the market alive, Carvalho said.

"It's as much related to the weather as it is related to the scarcity of crabs," he said. "If the weather was good all these days, there wouldn't be as much of a demand in the live and fresh market."

And though he's not a biologist, Carvalho suspects the light season is a result of crab's larvae not landing nearby.

"From what I understand, crabs produce tremendous amounts of eggs that hatch into larvae," he said. That larvae either successfully lands near shores and into estuaries up and down the coast — which depends on the ocean's currents — or it doesn't and the crab are few and far between.

"It's kind of the luck of the current," Carvalho said.

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