The docks are rocking at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay, with sports fishermen reeling in their first batches of Dungeness Crab, and professional seafarers fortifying their boats for the opening of the commercial crab fishing season on Sunday.
The trappers who catch the tasty crustaceans for sport began their season last Saturday, and they're reporting a bounty of good-size crabs crawling just off the North Coast shores.
One of the early birds on the water was Chris Pellascini, owner of Tombe Realty in Sebastopol. He set out on Saturday with four friends, and they caught the limit, 10 crabs per person, in about an hour.
"It's been just fantastic," Pellascini said. "We haven't had it this good for a long time. .<TH>.<TH>. They're good size crab and they're full of meat."
Professional fishermen are encouraged by the early reports, after working the waters for several years and finding few crabs that were large enough to legally catch.
"It's been pretty tough the last three to four years, with no salmon season whatsoever, and not a whole lot to catch in the crab season," said Chuck Wise, a director of the Fisherman's Marketing Association of Bodega Bay. "The guys out here, we could all use a paycheck."
Wise said he expects 60 to 70 boats to work the North Bay waters this weekend. His crew will start setting gear in the water around 6 a.m. on Saturday and will begin pulling pots just after midnight, bringing in their first crop of crabs as the sun rises Sunday morning.
"It's an all-night deal for the first few rounds," Wise said. "You have to get your share, because once they're caught they can't be caught again."
Wise is helping negotiate the price fishermen will get from buyers. The association represents about 200 fishermen.
"Expectations are pretty high," said Randy Burke, a commercial crab fisherman who said he's been in the business most of his life. "I hope we get a good price, for me that's the main thing."
Burke said he was hoping for $1.50 to $1.75 a pound for his catch; but he heard the buyers want to pay between $1.35 and $1.50.
Fishermen and the major buyers had not settled on a price as of Friday evening. But Tony Anello, a crab fisherman and co-owner of Spud Point Crab Company with his wife, said some buyers had agreed to a price of $1.75 in a meeting late Friday. They will resume price negotiations at 10 a.m. today.
"It takes a lot of effort and money on our part, and also on the part of the dealers," said Anello, who was worked his boat with a crew this week patching holes, painting buoys and changing engine oil . "There's a lot of crabs, but if we work too cheap, we're still not going to make up for our poor salmon years and also the poor crab years in the past."
Last year, fishermen sold their catch for $2 a pound at the start of the season, and the price climbed as high as about $3.75 a pound, Anello said.
Pete Kalvass, senior marine biologist for the Department of Fish and Game, was more conservative about estimating how the season would go. He said crab sampling devices placed off the waters in San Francisco suggest a reasonably good season this year, and that the crabbing conditions are on an "upward trend" from the seasons where there was a smaller catch. But he cautioned that the catch this season could be similar to last year's.