Traffic picking up

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate February 16, 2012 02:50 pm

Crabbing lockout ends, meaning more competition

The Pollux of Crescent City unloads crab on Citizen’s Dock on Wednesday afternoon. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
The Pollux of Crescent City unloads crab on Citizen’s Dock on Wednesday afternoon. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Instead of hearts and flowers, local crab fishermen got new competition for Valentine’s Day.

The number of fishermen hunting for North Coast crabs picked up Tuesday with the end of the lockout that prevented  crabbers from fishing the North Coast if they had fished elsewhere before the season opened here.

In a delayed season, like this year, crews that wait to crab until the North Coast opens get exclusive rights to the Dungeness from Point Arena to the Oregon border — temporarily.

A “steady stream of boats” floated past Point Arena heading north over the weekend, said Pete Kalvass, a DFG senior marine biologist.

“I had quite a few phone calls of guys confirming when they can start” laying pots, Kalvass said.  The lockout ended at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Kalvass said he saw “lots of pots” being loaded onto flat-bed trucks in Bodega Bay last week.  Fishermen could be putting the pots away for the season, but it’s more likely they’re heading north to crab, Kalvass said.

A handful of locally based vessels whose crews chose to fish outside the region are coming back to town now that the lockout is ending, said Crescent City Harbormaster Richard Young.

 Pacific Choice Seafood dock worker David Cappell unloads crabs Wednesday. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Pacific Choice Seafood dock worker David Cappell unloads crabs Wednesday. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
When the Northern California season was delayed in 2005–2006, most crabbers preferred to wait for the season to open, Kalvass said.  Data from the 2008–09 season (a non-delayed season) show the vast majority of North Coast crabbers only fish in the North Coast regions.

The crab catch has slowed down, predictable in a fishery where the majority of crabs are caught in the first few weeks.

The fishing vessel Tassinge of Kodiak, Alaska, unloaded about 27,000 pounds of crab Wednesday — 60,000 pounds less than what it brought in earlier this season, said Next Seafood dock worker Kevin Corbett, who unloaded the vessel’s crab each time.

“Weather has become a factor and production is slower due to the weather,” said Rick Harris, plant manager for Pacific Choice Seafood in Eureka. “There seems to be a charge of boats from the southern fishery that have come north, so we will have to see what effect that additional effort may bring.”

Harris said the price is holding steady at $3.30 a pound, and he was hoping the frozen market holds up and isn’t saturated by demand. Price and production are both twice that of last year, he said.

“What’s unusual this year is the high price of crab and I think it’s driven by the Chinese market,”  Young said. “Because there’s nothing in the U.S. market that would cause it to be a high year.”

From 2009 to 2011, the amount of live Dungeness crab California exported overseas increased from 25,000 pounds to 445,000 pounds,  according to NOAA figures cited in the North Coast Journal.

Harris said the demand for live crab slowed after the Chinese New Year.

Regardless of what’s driving up prices, they make for happy fishermen.

“The boats are pretty happy,” Young said. “I don't think the volume is very high but the price is good.”

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