The Commercial Dungeness crab fishing season has been delayed again, this time due partly to poor meat quality found in samples, and due to humpback whales still migrating south.
While hopes for Thanksgiving crab were already dashed a few weeks ago with the initial delay, a second delay in California's commercial Dungeness crab fishing season has been called by the state fish and wildlife authorities. This time, the reasons were twofold: humpback whales, which can get caught in crab-pot lines, are still migrating off the coast; and tests of crabs near the Mendocino-Sonoma county line found poor quality meat, indicating it may be too early to begin catching crabs anyway.
In a Friday announcement, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said that they would reevaluate the fishery on December 7 for a potential opening of the commercial season on December 16. Until then, recreational crab fishing is permitted in Zone 2 (north of the Mendocino-Sonoma line) and Zone 5 (south of Monterey).
The low quality of the meat found in crabs off the North Coast is likely the result of a late molting season or other factors. As the Chronicle explains, via longtime crab fisherman John Barnett, Dungeness crabs have soft shells and less meat right after molting, and it takes time for them to "fatten" up again. The commercial fishing season is typically timed to when the crabs are at their largest.
Barnett says that the meat-quality issue is something that has delayed seasons in the past, long before a lawsuit from environmentalists created the added factor of the humpback whale migration.
As SFist has explained before, humpback whales have been swimming closer to shore in recent years likely due to climate change and the presence of food, and this puts them more frequently in the path of ropes attached to crab pots and buoys as they migrate south for the winter. Whale entanglements spiked after 2015, leading to the 2018 legal ruling that has caused delays in the commercial crab season the past five years.
Because of sport fishermen and because crabbing is ongoing from the waters off Alaska and Washington, you may still find Dungeness crab in places like Bi-Rite and Costco, it's just very likely that, in the case of Costco, this is not local crab.
Once the local season begins, Dungeness crab dishes will begin popping up on menus all over the city, and the price of crab in grocery stores will go down. As they did last year, crab fisherman will again be able to sell crabs directly off their boats at Fisherman's Wharf — it's usually on Fridays and Saturdays, and you can see more info about that here.
Last year, the opening of the commercial crab season was delayed three times, until New Year's Eve.
Photo: Alvin Mathews