North Coast crabbers stop fishing over price dispute

  • Chuck Wise, a crab fisherman for the past 50 years, shuts down his boat, after the fleet decided to stay in the docks at Bodega Bay when wholesale buyers decided to drop prices after an early glut on the market. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The port of Bodega Bay was quiet Wednesday, with sunshine glistening on the water.

But the eerie calm was unusual at the height of Dungeness Crab season, when the docks are usually a bustling mess of fishermen unloading ton after ton of wriggling crabs from their boats.

Crab fishermen from the ports of Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay stayed off the water again Thursday in a protest against buyers who want to take the wholesale price below $3 a pound. The strike began Sunday.

Chuck Wise, a crab fisherman for the past 50 years, spent part of the day tending to his boat, but decided to go home around noon, without a day's work to do.

"It doesn't look good," Wise said. "It doesn't look good at all."

"The guys want to go fishing, but we're not going to do it where you can't make a decent living," Wise said. "It's very expensive to run a boat. There's two guys, plus me, to make a living off it."

For Wise, 72, whose boat Juliet can hold up to 6,000 pounds of crab, the day without work meant he lost out on about $18,000 in potential earnings for himself and his crew. About 40 crabbing boats typically are working the waters off Bodega Bay.

The price dispute has practically become a holiday tradition. Last year, fishermen held out for a better price until just after Thanksgiving, so they and the retail markets missed out on that bountiful sales opportunity.

Now, with Thanksgiving over, customers are less willing to pay a premium for local crab, said Bill Timko, salesman for North Coast Fisheries, one of the major crab wholesalers.

"People will buy crab at $4.99 or $5.99 a pound, but they won't buy much," Timko said. "When they're at a lower price range they sell much better."

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