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Legions of Dungeness crab fans hit Sonoma Coast for sport opener

Dungeness crab fishing regulations

The daily individual bag limit is 10, males only. Each must be at least 5¾ inches when measured across the widest points.

Additional information is

available here.

The season runs through June 30 south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line and through July 30 to the north.

BODEGA BAY

John Galeotti has enjoyed the start of the Sonoma Coast’s recreational crab season for more than a decade,? and Saturday was no different.

At 2 a.m., the American Canyon resident joined his 12-year-old son and some friends in traveling to Bodega Bay, where numerous others eagerly jumped on the season’s first opportunity for them to fish for Dungeness crab in the Pacific.

Galeotti and his crew left Spud Point Marina about 3:30 a.m. and some four hours later had already reached their limit of 10 crabs each, he said.

Galeotti, 46, relishes the tradition. So does his son, Josh, 12, who has come along for about seven years now.

“He’ll start bugging me, ‘When’s crab season, Dad? When’s crab season, Dad?’?” Galeotti said. “There’s nothing better than being out on the ocean with family and friends. It’s a ritual, and it’s something everybody looks forward to - the camaraderie of being on the boat, being out there in nature.”

The recreational crab opener - traditionally the first Saturday in November - is a high holiday on the Sonoma Coast and especially at Doran Beach and Westside regional parks, where large groups of friends and family meet up annually for fishing, feasting and long-held traditions.

Camping reservations can be made a year in advance, so most regulars do just that: sign up for the next season while they’re still in camp.

It’s a tried-and-true tradition, except in 2016, when the season was delayed by months because of an outbreak of an algae-related substance called domoic acid that tainted crab caught off the coast for months.

Routine monitoring this year turned up sufficiently elevated levels in crab caught north of Trinidad and Patrick’s Point State Park and points north that state regulators have delayed the Dungeness crab sport opener in northern Humboldt and Del Norte counties until state health officials determine the crustaceans are safe to catch.

Slightly elevated levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can be dangerous at high concentrations, also were detected in some sample crabs caught off Bodega Head and the Russian River last month.

More recent sample results were not available Friday, though in most years, the concentrations diminish as autumn goes on.

The California Department of Public Health has nonetheless advised consumers to avoid ingesting the organs or viscera - sometimes call crab butter - because domoic acid tends to be more concentrated there.

El Cerrito resident Kevin Nguyen has gone out to Bodega Bay for the start of commercial crab season for about seven or eight years now. He was there again Saturday, and he said the toxin issue was not a major concern for him.

“My wife and I, we just make a point not to eat the innards and the intestines,” Nguyen said. “We clean it out as much as we can and we try to always cook the crab as fresh as possible. We don’t let it sit for too long.”

Nguyen, 36, noted that turnout this year was particularly high, possibly because of favorable weather.

“I’ve never seen so many people out before,” he said.

State Fish and Wildlife rules allowed crabbers to begin dropping their traps at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, so there is typically lots of activity around the Doran Beach boat launch all night long, with a renewed surge at sunrise, when day-use visitors are allowed to come in and set out for crab, Park Ranger Chris Herman said.

“The morning people say it’s backed up before they even show up, so before dawn,” Herman said Friday afternoon.

The road to Bodega Head and Westside Regional Park, which also has popular boat launch facilities, sometimes is so busy for the crab opener that traffic extends the nearly 2 miles to Highway 1.

The occasion spurs anxiety among first responders, given the crowds and the fact that it puts people on the ocean in the dark. Some boaters eager to get on the water also may have more enthusiasm than their boating skill may support.

“Sport crab’s the one that we always stress a little bit about,” said Bodega Bay Fire Capt. Lou Stoerzinger. “They think it’s always just going to be easy paddling out in a kayak and dropping a pot. They all want to go out at midnight. It’s really crowded. The commercial people are fine. It’s the sports folks that cause a little more stress to the first responders out here.”

Stoerzinger said Friday the department planned to have extra staff on hand to launch the department’s fireboat during the initial rush, “just to calm everybody down.”

Fish and Wildlife wardens also are typically positioned around the bay during the day to ensure that people bringing in full traps aren’t keeping more crab or smaller crabs than those to which they are entitled.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com.

Dungeness crab fishing regulations

The daily individual bag limit is 10, males only. Each must be at least 5¾ inches when measured across the widest points.

Additional information is

available here.

The season runs through June 30 south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line and through July 30 to the north.

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