Now that we are finally (finally!) in Dungeness crab season, it's time to take advantage of the new policy that lets you go down to Fisherman's Wharf and buy crab directly from crab fishermen, right off the boat.
Yes, in fact, Fisherman's Wharf is still a functioning wharf for fishing boats, and not just a tourist mecca/sea lion hangout. And for $10 a pound, you can skip the middleman and purchase Dungeness crab from one of the people who is out there pulling crab off the bottom of the sea every day.
We're actually in the second commercial crab fishing season in which this rule has been in place. In November 2021, the San Francisco Port Commission approved a pilot program to allow fish and crab sales directly off of boats, which is something that's allowed at multiple other harbors down the NorCal coast. Think of it like a farmer's market, only a bit smellier and right on the water.
And this year, like the past few years, the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season was delayed several times out of concern for migrating whales — the whales can get tangled in the ropes that attach crab pots to their buoys, which has led to whale deaths in recent years. So we're only two weeks into this season, and weekend crab sales off boats has just gotten underway down at Piers 45 and 47 in San Francisco.
The crab boats dock early in the morning, and on Fridays and Saturdays — and occasional Sundays — you can find them selling fresh crab direct to consumers. Today (Friday), they were down there at 7 a.m., and they keep selling until they sell out.
Last Saturday, despite the rain, fishermen were selling crab for $10/lb from the docks behind Scoma's and Tarantino's restaurants — and at least one of them was taking Venmo, though cash is preferred.
This Facebook Group is a good place to check for updates, but you can expect the sales to be ongoing this winter on Friday and Saturday mornings. Some boats may pull in earlier, but one crew told Eater this week that they try to be docked by 9 a.m.
And, reportedly, there is not a bumper crop of crab so far this year. But according to crab fishermen that means that the crabs that are getting caught are "heavier and sweeter," as they tell Eater, because they're competing less for food. The fishermen are already doing a brisk wholesale business to grocery and restaurant clients, but they are setting aside some of their haul to sell directly to buyers at the Wharf.
The advantage to getting the crab off the boat, too, is that the crabs haven't been sitting in tanks for days or weeks, as they would be if you bought them at Costco or elsewhere, which means better flavor and texture — even if these might be a dollar more expensive per pound.
If you're lazy and/or grossed out by the idea of boiling and cracking crabs yourself, you can always head over to Bi-Rite or Whole Foods and buy the cooked meat to throw into pasta or whatever, but it's going to run you something crazy like $60 per pound.
Photo: Leslie Wong/Facebook