BODEGA BAY - The decks were stacked high with crab pots Monday as the fishing fleet sat idly in Bodega Bay awaiting a price agreement, calmer seas and the start of the season.
About 45 boats were clustered at Spud Point Marina, most local but some from as far away as Oregon as fishermen secured lights, chopped bait for bait jars and talked in small groups in anticipation of the Tuesday start to the commercial crab season.
"It is always the same thing, wait until the last minute," said Jeff Genovese of Bodega Bay, owner of La Dolce Vita. "It puts everybody on edge."
Fishermen are asking for $2.50 a pound and buyers are offering $2, according to Chuck Cappotto of Gualala, president of the Fishermen's Marketing Association of Bodega Bay.
"We are confident the crab will be good, the quality good and we want a fair price," Cappotto said.
Last year, the season opened with fishermen getting $1.75 a pound and ended with the price at $4.
The ocean Monday was too rough for the fleet to launch, consisting mostly of boats 40 to 50 feet, and the weather was not expected to break until Thursday.
"The season will start when the season starts," said Jeff French of Morro Bay. "It's a matter of being patient, letting the thing sort itself out."
Last year was by far the highest catch on record, 19 million pounds for Central California, a region stretching from Sonoma County and south; an average catch is 5.6 million pounds of crab.
Bodega Bay fishermen unloaded 2.2 million pounds of Dungeness in November and December alone, compared to just 181,971 pounds during the same months in 2009, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.
The dollar value jumped to $3.6 million from $387,450 during that time. That catch was twice as plentiful as the combined catches of both San Francisco Bay and Half Moon Bay.
Preliminary estimates are that this year's catch will be just less than half of last year's record haul, but that would still make 2011 an abundant year.
If an agreement on price is reached within the next few days fresh crab is expected to be in stores in time for Thanksgiving, said Anthony Delima of Tides Wharf in Bodega Bay.
"If the fishermen get what they want on Thursday, we should have product in the stores on Friday," Delima said.
Cappotto said that the fleet in Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay will not venture out until a price is reached.
The California commercial crab season north of Sonoma County has been delayed until Dec. 15 because the crab are still not filled out with meat this early in the year.
The sport crab season is already open, with preliminary indications showing healthy crabs.
"I think it will be an all right season," said John Toler of Eureka, owner of the Soko. "Last year was record-setting for history, but you never know until you throw your gear in the water."
To determine quality, Cappotto said the Regina Marie, a boat owned by Aaron Weinzinger, went out Monday to catch a few crabs as a test.
Cappotto said fisherman are looking for crabs with 24 to 25 percent meat, meaning that the typical two-pound crab would have a half pound of meat.