On a wet dock at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay, Rich Franceschi grabbed one live crab after another with his bare hands, throwing them from a dump bucket into a giant bin headed for the seafood delivery trucks.
A manager for North Coast Fisheries of Santa Rosa, Franceschi was rushing to unload 30,000 pounds of crab from Ron Anderson's boat, and he wasn't going to let any rogue crab claws stop him.
"I get bit maybe twice a year," Franceschi said. "I've had blood flying."
2010: The First Crab Of The Season
The word around the docks this week is that crabbers are set to haul in a record catch this season. And the pressure to make the most of the bounty was palpable, with many crabbers and dock hands working throughout the night, catching short naps in boats or trucks before getting back to work.
Franceschi said there were about 20 boats waiting to unload right behind Anderson's. By about 3 p.m. Thursday, they were still unloading the second boat of the day.
"In 40 years, this is probably the most crabs we've seen," Franceschi said. "We brought in the same amount of crabs last night that we brought in all of last year," he said Thursday.
The abundance of Dungeness crabs coming into Northern California ports is a welcome change for fishermen, who have dealt with years of small catches. The commercial crab season started on Sunday, and professional fishermen hit the water on Tuesday after a delay related to price negotiations. Since then, the docks have buzzed throughout the night as fishermen from up and down the West Coast hauled in their catches.
Wanda Ries' husband was on one of the boats waiting to unload. Ries, a Bodega Bay native, used to work the boat with her husband Kenny Ries for 15 years, but she got a job at Safeway to help pay for benefits when the fishing work slowed down. She said they've had to run up and down the coast to make a living.
"Hopefully it will pay to keep the gear in the water until June," Ries said. "It's good to see the guys excited to make some money, because it's been a long time since we've made any money."
At Pacific Market in Sebastopol, fish mongers cooked about 200 pounds of local crab Wednesday and the same amount on Thursday, and they were selling the fresh meat for $4.99 a pound.