The start to the local commercial crabbing season has been delayed over concerns about the readiness of this year's crop.
From Half Moon Bay to Bodega Bay, fishermen had been expected to head out before dawn Sunday to drop traps for the coming season, which began at 12:01 a.m. today and runs to June 30.
But "99.9 percent" of the fleet elected to stay in port Sunday, worried that the Dungeness crabs may not be ready yet to harvest, said Tony Anello, a fisherman and co-owner of Spud Point Crab Co. in Bodega Bay.
"If you have peaches on the tree, you don't pick them if they're not ripe," he said. "That's the scenario, the fisherman are concerned that the product might not be ripe."
He said the concern grew from observations of crabs harvested by sport fishermen, whose season started a week earlier. He said those crabs were a mixed bag.
Fisherman had agreed with dealers to receive $1.75 for each pound of crab they provide. But Anello said crabbers were worried that if the catch was more shell than meat, dealers won't be able to sustain those prices and buyers won't be happy with their purchases.
"We don't want to put inferior crab on the market," he said. "We are looking out for the best interests of everybody involved including ourselves, the dealers and the public."
The fishermen also don't want to end up working for $1.25 a pound, he said.
To resolve the situation, the fishermen want a test where they bring in a haul of crabs to dealers to have them pronounce them market-worthy. They hadn't done such a test earlier because they're not allowed to catch crabs out-of season, Anello said.
"If they say it's good enough, we will probably go fishing," he said.
Rising operational costs and the collapse of other local fisheries have made life hard for fishermen. Everybody is suffering, Anello said.
Last season, commercial fishermen caught about 3 million pounds of crab up from a low of about 1 million pounds the year before. The bounty has been as large as 5 million to 6 million in the past five years.
You can reach Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.