The first crab of the commercial season started to show up at the docks in Bodega Bay on Monday morning.
"Our boat unloaded, a few others have come in, but not a lot that has delivered yet," said Tony Anello, owner of the Spud Point Crab Co. "It looks like the same as last year but the grade is smaller, although as time goes on the crabs will get fuller."
Anello had a pot going in front of the family's store and restaurant on Westshore Road, where crabs were being cooked, put on ice and sold for $5.99 a pound.
Bob Kint drove in from Tracy to buy two, as he said he does several times during the crab season.
"I want the fresh ones," said Kint, who bought two cooked crab. "With luck, they may make it home before I eat them."
G&G Market also had a small amount of crab in the store Monday afternoon, which was selling for $6.99 a pound.
The commercial season opened on Sunday for the central coast, an area from Gualala south. The season north of Gualala opens on Dec. 1.
Fishermen are expecting the catch to be similar to last year, when only 1.1 million pounds were caught, the third year of a steady decline.
The crab season is cyclical. In 2005 there were 6.1 million pounds caught and a large catch is expected again next year.
This year, however, the catch from sport fishermen, whose season opened a week ago, and the first of the commercial catch has reaffirmed the low expectations — most of the crab are a little too small to keep.
Commercial fishermen can keep male crabs that are at least 6.25 inches across the shell.
"The quality is not great, the size is small, about 1.75 pounds average, and they all look alike; it's like they were all stamped out of the same mold," said Rich Franceschi, manager of Paisano Brothers.
Franceschi said boats that came into his dock Sunday night had 800 pounds of crab.
"It's just one of those years, but it looks good for next year. There are a lot of six-inch males around," Franceschi said.
George Petty of the Janae said he caught 150 pounds, but released 10 times more crab than he kept because of the size limitations.
"I'm going to call it a season, but I have a land job too," said Petty, a Bodega Bay resident.
There are about 30 commercial crab boats fishing from Spud Point, but in a good year there would be 50.
Anello's son, Mark Anello, brought in 1,200 pounds on his boat, the Cape Ommaney, for the family business before heading back out on Monday.
Spud Point Marina officials said many fishermen went out at 4 a.m. Monday to begin pulling pots, waiting until the last minute before a weather front comes in Tuesday, bringing large swells and high winds.
Some fishermen are also keeping the crab in their wet tanks and pumping water over them to keep them alive, hoping the price will go up before selling them, said Noah Wagner, marina supervisor.
Fishermen are getting $2.50 a pound from seafood buyers, but the price could go up if there is a scarcity of crab.