Expectations of a poor commercial crab season are being reinforced by Bodega Bay sport fishermen who are finding plenty of crab but ones just too small to be legal for professional fishermen.

?I think the crabs are smaller this year,? said sport fisherman Bob Black of Bodega Bay, who with two friends put out 10 pots Saturday ? the first day of the sport season. ?I don?t think there are many commercial sized.?

Sport crab fishermen are allowed to take 10 crabs with a minimum size of 5.75 inches, a half inch smaller than those commercial crab fishermen are allowed to keep.

Northwest swells of 18 feet Saturday kept the sport fishermen in the outer Bodega Bay, within the shelter of Bodega Head and just off Doran Beach.

Black said they caught 25 crabs between the three of them, but none large enough to be kept by commercial fishermen.

?All of ours were sport; we didn?t catch any commercial crabs,? Black said.

The Central Coast commercial season opens Sunday, while the season north of Gualala opens Dec. 1.

Still, there should be legal-sized crab out there and caught in time for Thanksgiving Day dinner, said Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries in Santa Rosa.

?We?ll have crab at the end of the week,? Lucas said. ?We have fresh cooked crab now in the store .<TH>.<TH>. it is selling for close to $6 a pound, but the price will drop as soon as our season opens.?

The price of crab will be negotiated this week between the fishermen?s associations in Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay and seafood buyers.

The North Coast crab fishery runs in cycles, and biologists and commercial fishermen have predicted a bleak season.

?It will be a pretty poor commercial season, nothing looks legal,? said Chris Lawson, president of the Fisherman?s Marketing Association of Bodega Bay. ?There is volume of crab, but they are not ready for us.?

It is expected the catch will be similar to last year, when 1.1 million pounds were caught in the central area, the third year of a steady decline.

The size of the crabs being caught by sport fishermen and incidentally by trawlers indicates there are plenty of crab that should be large enough to harvest next year, which could be a banner year.

Still, Lawson said he expects there will be 30 boats going out from Bodega Bay on Saturday, the first day that fishermen can set pots. Sunday is the first day they can retrieve them.

If the prospects were better, Lawson said there would be 50 boats going out.

?Guys are getting ready. I am going north for that opener. I don?t know if I will fish here ? it depends on the quality of the crabs up north,? Lawson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.