BODEGA BAY — Fishermen are checking, mending and stacking pots and tending to their boats in preparation for the opening of commercial crab season.
"We're going through the gear, making sure it is up to par — you don't want to go out there and lose crab," said Mike Duer, a deckhand on the Viola E., which has about 300pots.
"We are working on the pots. We mend, change the rubbers, check the ropes, put on leads, fix any holes, check the buoys ... it's an ongoing thing," said Steve Ayers, a deckhand on the Provider.
The consensus among fishermen at the Spud Point Marina is that the season, which opens Nov. 15, will be like last year, when 1.1 million pounds were caught on the Central Coast, which stretches from the Gualala River south to Monterey.
That was one more bad year following several others.
"I don't think it will be big, I don't think it will be belly (up)," Ayers said. "You can put out test pots, you can read the tea leaves, but you never know. It will be what it will be."
There was also a lot of hemming and hawing by crabbers on whether they would go out when the central season opens, wait for the Dec. 1 opener in the rest of Northern California, or not go out at all this year.
"It's not looking like it will be a big season," said Joe Mantua, owner of the Haida Queen. "We're getting ready, but we're going north."
Third-generation Bodega Bay fisherman Jerry Ames said he was not going out, for the second year in a row.
"I don't think it's enough to make it pay," Ames said. "We're more interested in duck hunting anyway."
Still, Ames said he thinks most of the fleet of 40 to 50 crab boats at Spud Point will be on the ocean Nov. 14, the first day to put the pots in, and Nov. 15, the first day to pull them out.
The commercial fishery in Washington's Puget Sound was the first to open, on Oct. 1. The area of Northern California above Gualala will open Dec. 1.
The sport crab season opens Saturday and may give the commercial fishermen a preview of what to expect. Sport crabbers are limited to 10 crab with a minimum size of 5.75 inches.
The earlier Central Coast opening is also supposed to put crab on the Thanksgiving Day table.
"We have the two-week opener for Thanksgiving, it is a premium market. Boats get more money, providing they can get crab in those two weeks," said Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries in Santa Rosa.
The price won't be set until the week before the season opens, but it is not expected to be much different than a year ago, at $2.25 to $2.50 a pound, which would mean a price of $5 a pound at stores.
The prices are set in negotiations between the fishermen associations in Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay and the seafood buyers. They also are influenced by the price in Puget Sound, which is also $2.25 to $2.50 a pound.
"That might be an indicator, but it really is a factor of how many crabs there are on the ground in the Bay Area when that starts and the impact of Washington state tribal fisheries," said Bill Cavalho of Wild Planet seafood in McKinleyville. "If that season is robust, that will impact the ability to raise prices."