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Feeling Crabby


Photograph by Stefanie Michejda

This morning on the radio I heard the local NPR station reporting that Dungeness crab season has officially begun today, right on schedule. You may have heard reports that it would be delayed on account of the oil spill, and some other doom and gloom news that there wouldn’t be crabs at all this season, that they’d all be tainted. So I called Monterey Fish Market this morning to ask them to give me the latest and best information. (For those who aren’t familiar with Monterey Fish, they are an excellent purveyor of sustainable seafood and supply many of the city’s best restaurants. They also have a retail shop at 1582 Hopkins St. in Berkeley)

According to Dave Stern at Monterey Fish, the season did begin today, though you won’t be seeing any crab boats coming into San Francisco’s ports—the boats are only allowed to land in Half Moon Bay, Bodega Bay and Santa Cruz. Why? As Dave explained it to me, it’s because many of the big crab boats throw their catch into holding tanks on the boat, then re-circulate ocean water over the crabs to keep them alive until they can be transferred to a tank on shore. Should those boats motor through the waters closer to shore, they’d be pumping oil-tainted water over the catch. This applies primarily to big boats of course, and Stern was quick to say that Monterey Fish works with smaller-scale fishermen who deliver their catch so quickly that holding tanks aren’t necessary.

In other words, this devastating spill probably won’t affect the catch too much—only the location of landing. According to the fishermen, says Stern, the crabs are out in deep water, far from shore (smart crabs!). More good news—no oil has been seen at the Farallon Islands (23 miles out to sea, and home to lots of rare birds). So we can all expect to start seeing Dungeness at local markets as soon as this weekend. Stern said that the fisherman they work with have keys to the Pier 33 space that houses Monterey’s crab holding tanks they often fill after hours, meaning that the Monterey staff could be greeted tomorrow with anywhere from 200-1,000 pounds of crab: the fisherman’s equivalent of Christmas morning.