Crab lovers were expecting California Dungeness to be crowding the seafood counters in local supermarkets Monday, since the commercial crab fishing season officially started on Sunday.
Instead, they wait. But not for long.
Fishermen plan to set their pots in the water at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, two days after the official start of the season, because they were concerned that reports of poor quality crab would reduce the price, and asked a wholesaler to test the quality.
The results: "This looks like decent quality crab," declared Michael Lucas, president North Coast Fisheries, who conducted the test that concluded Monday afternoon.
That means crab could be in some stores late Tuesday and others by Wednesday.
Lucas checked a sampling of crustaceans caught in Bodega Bay, San Francisco Bay and Half Moon Bay. With the final results in, fishermen also dealing with tense price negotiations will begin the next stage of the commercial fishing season: actually fishing.
"We need to get rolling here," said Chris Lawson, president of the Fishermen's Marketing Association of Bodega Bay. "I feel like I've been up for days and we haven't even begun fishing yet."
Monday's test was the first official assessment conducted in the area this season, though there has been some unofficial "wildcat testing," said Richard Hagel, a fisherman from Crescent City.
Buyers had agreed to a wholesale price of $1.75 a pound on Saturday, but those unofficial tests prompted one commercial buyer to say if the quality was bad, he wouldn't buy crabs at all.
"That's what really kicked things off," Hagel said.
Crab testing isn't usually necessary in the area between Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay, said Pete Kalvass, senior biologist for the Department of Fish and Game. In that region, crabs are usually ready to go on Nov. 15.
Farther north, quality testing is common, because the crabs are slower to fill in with meat. Local crab fishermen are prevented from conducting pre-season testing, a regulation they would like to change.
"When the dust settles on this little fiasco, we're going to start working on this," Lawson said. "Hopefully we'll have things in place next year."