The Crab Boats Are on the Water, and Fresh Dungeness Is Coming Soon

Debra Hamilton/CA Dept. of Fish & Game
Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news that the Dungeness crab strike was over and the boats were heading out to set their traps. As SFoodie had reported before Thanksgiving, the Bay Area's Dungeness crab season began on November 15, but local fishing boats were striking in order to force the major crab processors to pay more, asking for $2.50 a pound, up from the $1.75 last year. Fishing boats from other states respected the local strike, and San Franciscans couldn't get fresh local crab for Thanksgiving.

According to the Chronicle, the negotiators settled on $2.25. Local wholesalers say they should start seeing the first fresh crabs later today, which means they'll be in markets and restaurants come Wednesday and Thursday.

If $2.25 a pound sounds like a steep jump from $1.75, consider what SF Crab Boat Association president Larry Collins told SFoodie before the strike ended: "I've been crabbing since 1988," he said. "Back in the day, traps cost $60 to $75 a piece, bait was 25 cents a pound, and I was paid $2.25 a pound for crabs. Now traps cost $225, diesel fuel is $4 a gallon, and bait costs a buck a pound, but I'm still getting offered $2. So as far as business plans go it's not a good one for the fishermen." (Adjusted for inflation, $2.25 in 1988 is worth $4.32 today.)

Angel Cincotta, one of the sisters who runs the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company, says that the $2.25 price that the fishermen have quoted to journalists is not quite true. "As a buyer, you can never say what the base price is. Technically, that's price fixing, and could earn you an antitrust lawsuit," she says. "Each buyer has the right to set their own price. Some of them will tell you that they're paying the $2.50, and maybe they will; and when crabs flood the dock, that price will probably decrease. I can tell you for us girls, we have to pay a little more to get the quality we want."

While Alioto-Lazio Fish Company is a wholesale business, Cincotta says that she'll sell directly to customers -- at wholesale prices -- as long as you come to the shop at 440 Jefferson (at Leavenworth) and buy crabs by the pound, not the piece. Monterey Fish, which is located on Pier 33 (Embarcadero and Bay), has told SFoodie it'll do the same, and it's planning to charge $3.95 a pound. In addition, the Chinatown and the Richmond seafood markets will soon be flooded with inexpensive live crabs, and SFoodie still backs our 2009 top picks for restaurants serving fresh, sweet local Dungeness. Finally.

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