“We do the dance every year between the fleet and the processors, trying to reach a price," says Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. "And we're doing the dance right now.”
This season could be the last before a new law transforms crabbing in the state. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 369, a bill that for the first time sets limits on the number of crab traps boats can use, based on what they caught from 2003-2008. The limits range from 250 traps allowed for those with the lowest historic catch to 500 for those with the highest.
“It’s definitely going to make a difference. I think it’s going to flatten the playing field a little bit so there’s not so much inequity between the big boats and little boats,” says Collins.
The few weeks of crab season are grueling for fishermen, as they race to catch all they can before the crabs are fished out. The majority of Dungeness crab is caught in the first two weeks.
“[The new law] will take traps out of the water,” says Collins. “The maximum traps should be about 175,000 traps for the state. I would guess that there could be up to a quarter million traps fished this year.” Collins says the new limits will also mean that fresh crab is available to consumers later in the season.
The new rules won’t be instituted by the Department of Fish and Game for at least a year. “Knowing that the legislation has been passed and signed, I already feel better,” says Collins.
Last year was a banner year for local crab boats with more than 27 million pounds of crab caught. Collins says it’ll be tough to match it. "It was the biggest season in history."
Crab season in waters north of Mendocino County will now open on December 15th – two weeks later than normal.