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Sonoma Coast Dungeness crab arrives in local markets ahead of New Year’s celebrations

The start of the season off the Sonoma Coast was hailed as good news for crabbers and seafood customers alike, just in time for the New Year’s Day rush.|

As he headed back to Bodega Bay Thursday, Dick Ogg seemed to be relieved to be bringing in a haul of Dungeness crab now that the season has started after a delay of more than a month.

“It’s OK,” Ogg said when asked about the haul he had on his boat, Karen Jeanne, which was about 2 miles from shore. “I’m not going to say it’s great. But it’s OK.”

The commercial catch of Dungeness crab off the Sonoma Coast officially began on Wednesday, though crabbers were allowed to place their pots into the water beginning 8 a.m. Dec. 26.

The season normally would have started around Nov. 15, but was delayed by state officials, who sought to prevent whales that were lingering off the coast from becoming entangled in equipment.

The activity kicks off the annual time of the year where shoppers rush to get the first deliveries to Sonoma County markets, so they may be enjoyed during New Year’s Eve celebrations or while watching football.

Although grocers, such as Oliver’s Market, carried crab earlier in the season, they were largely Mendocino Coast crabs, which for some shoppers simply wouldn’t do.

“If I’m working in a store, that’s a frequently asked question, ‘Where’s the crab from?’ Or customers would ask, ‘Is this local Sonoma Coast crab? OK, we’ll wait until it (the season) opens,’” said Todd Davis, seafood coordinator for the Oliver’s Market stores. “Some of the stores, we did get crab in yesterday.

“Today we are 100% into the local county crab,” he added.

Their supply is brought into Bodega Bay and is being sold in the seafood department for $9.99 a pound, according to Davis.

The Sonoma Coast is part of a zone stretching south to Pigeon Point on the San Mateo Coast. It was the last region in the state to open for commercial crab boats. The delay to Dec. 29 was meant to safeguard protected migratory whales and other marine mammals from entanglement in fishing gear.

North of Sonoma County, the commercial catch began Dec. 1, offering the local fleet at least some action in what is typically California’s most lucrative ocean fishery.

The traditional opener for Sonoma-to-San Mateo zone is mid-November, but that has been repeatedly postponed in recent years under a framework established by the state and fishing interests to avoid entanglement of marine wildlife.

As for the hunger for locally caught crab among consumers, Davis, the Oliver’s seafood coordinator, said a number of factors contribute to the sweet, meaty texture of Dungeness, including cold water temperatures and the abundance of food.

“They’re big and they’re full and the price should easily maintain through New Year’s and on into January,” he said.

Ogg noted that the season provides an economic shot-in-the-arm for those tied to fisheries, especially the estimated 30 crabbers docked in Bodega Bay, the processors who transport the crustaceans, and the markets and restaurants that sell the product.

Last year, 1.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab were harvested, valued at $5 million, according to the county’s agriculture office. That was a decrease of about $500,000 from 2019, but still represented almost half of the total fisheries value caught within the waters off Sonoma County in 2020.

“We have to talk about the processors. There’s a lot of secondary effects that people don’t recognize if you are thinking about just what happens to the fisherman,” said Ogg, who is vice president of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association.

He anticipates at least a month of rushed activity that will decrease as they get closer to the end of January when the number of crabs to be caught dwindles.

“The likelihood is that in a couple of weeks the majority of resources will be gathered and then things will be more of slow pick. There will be just a few crabs here and few crabs there,” Ogg said. “We’ll just keep working.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5233 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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