By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

After a month of sluggish crab catching, Jerry and Marsha Nelson pulled and stored nearly half their pots and said they'll likely soon haul in more from the ocean's depths.

andquot;It's been pretty bad,andquot; said Marsha, adding that she and her husband likely will switch to bottom fishing to make up for the less-than-hot Dungeness crab season.

andquot;We're hoping the tuna season will make up for the income,andquot; Jerry said.

Their story is a common one this week at the Crescent City Harbor. Coming off three heavy catch seasons, crab anglers have combed an ocean floor that this year just isn't as rich with the meaty crustaceans.

andquot;It's an average to slightly below-average crab season,andquot; said Rick Shepherd, who sits on the Del Norte Fishermen's Marketing Association and fishes off the andquot;Sunset.andquot;

Preliminary reports show the Crescent City port hauled in 2.6 million pounds, worth $5.1 million, from the mid-December season opener through January, said Pete Kalvass of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Compared to other Northern California ports in Eureka, Trinidad and Fort Bragg Crescent City has taken in 55 percent of the total catch thus far, which total 4.7 million pounds worth $9.2 million.

And the state's northern-most port has collected nearly 30 percent of California's total catch of 8.7 million pounds worth $17.1 million.

andquot;It's not a disaster season, (but) it is slow,andquot; Shepherd said, adding that the price has steadily increased as boats return with fewer and fewer pounds.

Fishermen were receiving $2.75 a pound Wednesday, up from $2.50 earlier in the week, he said.

andquot;It's kind of given people incentive to stay fishing longer,andquot; Shepherd said.

Though the Nelsons and other fisherfolk have brought their crab gear in for good, many boats continue to search the seas in hopes of a healthier catch, which may be the case as competition falls away.

andquot;The more (boats) that quit, the better for the guys who want to stay,andquot; said Bob Repair of the andquot;Gladnik.andquot;

But this year's faltering catch isn't the only factor keeping anglers on the ocean in pursuit of the rats of the sea.

The commercial salmon season is once again threatened and shrimp and bottom fishing haven't proved to be profitable the last few years, Shepherd said.

andquot;A lot of people would not be fishing now if the other fisheries were healthy,andquot; he said. andquot;(But) with the salmon season being curtailed, there really isn't much to do for most of the fishermen.andquot;

Joe Abad of the andquot;Orionandquot; won't bring his gear in for a while, though.

andquot;It wouldn't be feasible for us to fish for (salmon),andquot; Abad said, adding that he's speculating that after the crustaceans mate, andquot;They'll start to bite a little bit.andquot;

And though there's no crystal ball to see future seasons' landscapes, Kalvass said he wouldn't be surprised to see next year's catch exceed this one.

andquot;It's possible,andquot; he said. andquot;It's hard to say how fast down and how steep the bottom (of the cycle) would be it's kind of an erratic cycle.andquot;

And Repair, who was expecting a weak season, said his boat is still trying to scoop up the crab because andquot;there's nothing else to do.andquot;

Though the numbers aren't spectacular, his livelihood hasn't been crushed.

andquot;I doubt if anybody's saving money, but it's enough to pay the bills,andquot; Repair said. andquot;Nobody's getting rich, but enough to feed the kids.andquot;