EUREKA — Commercial crab fishermen on the Northern California coast have finally left the docks after a price dispute kept their boats tied up for the first two weeks of the Dungeness crab season.

They had little choice.

Fishermen in Oregon will open their own season Monday and have negotiated a wholesale price of $2.65 a pound, undercutting North Coast skippers, who were holding out for at least $3.

The move means crab fishermen up and down the West Coast, including those who fish out of Bodega Bay, will start the weekend at $2.65 a pound.

That's a 35 cent cut for those already harvesting Dungeness crab south of Mendocino County who had been earning $3 a pound since their own season opened Nov. 15.

The North Coast season for those fishing from Mendocino to Del Norte counties should have started two weeks later, on Dec. 1, though fishermen opted to stay ashore in hopes of negotiating a more favorable wholesale price than what they were being offered.

At the same time, the scheduled Dec. 1 start of the seasons in Oregon and Washington were delayed because of quality tests that showed the crab weren't mature enough. Subsequent testing has prompted state fish and wildlife officials to OK a Monday start up to Klipsan Beach, Wash.

Aaron Newman, president of the Humboldt Fishermen's Marketing Association, was pulling in his first crab pot of the season Friday when he conceded in a phone interview that North Coast skippers were "basically locked in" to a lower price by fishermen in Oregon.

But Newman said he feared the North Coast harvest would be so small the season might "be over before it starts."

Some Bodega Bay fishermen who have been out at sea for much of the past month are taking a breather for a few days, meanwhile, to see how prices settle out over the next few days, according to Chris Lawson, president of the Bodega Bay Fishermen's Marketing Association.

"It doesn't sound like there's a lot of crabs in the North, and if that's the case, it (the price) should bounce back up because we are approaching the holidays, and that's a big market for them."

"When they go in the north, it's usually for a cheaper price because there tends to be more volume up there," Lawson said. "If there's not a lot of crabs, the price will go up because, you know, it's supply and demand."

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or