Many local crab fishermen worked through the night Thursday, out on the water setting traps with the season's first catch expected to hit docks today after an agreement was reached with wholesale buyers to purchase the crustaceans at a price of $2.65 a pound.
Until Thursday, local Dungeness crab fishermen and buyers had been at a stalemate in negotiations since the season officially opened Dec. 1, with buyers offering $2.50 a pound and fishermen asking for $3. Neither side moved locally, but the $2.65 price came out of Oregon, where a state-mediated negotiation between fishermen and wholesalers concluded Wednesday night in advance of that region's Dec. 15 season opening.
"The fish companies won," said local fisherman Paul Pelligrini. "Fifteen cents wasn't worth two weeks (of waiting)."
Local fisherman Dave Bitts said that once the Oregon price was set, local fishermen had little choice but to accept it. He said most local fishermen showed up at a Fishermen's Marketing Association meeting Thursday morning and agreed it was time to hit the water.
"After that meeting, we all jumped in our rigs and raced to the docks," he said. "All in all, I'd say it was a very calm and measured start, given the circumstances."
Mark McCulloch, head fish monger at Eureka's Mr. Fish, said Christmas is one of the busiest crab sales days of the season. With a small crab stock predicted, McCulloch said the delayed start to the season might increase chances of having local crab in markets for the big day.
"This way, there is a better chance of assuring we have a decent supply," McCulloch said. "If they had settled on Dec. 1, they might have been all gobbled up by everyone."
The fish monger said he's hoping to have local crab available for his customers beginning today.
Pelligrini said the price is better than the $2.50 initially offered, but will do little more than allow fishermen to eke out a living if they catch 1,000 pounds or so a day. People have to remember, Pelligrini said, that crab fishermen shoulder a ton of expenses, including bait, fuel, boat upkeep and crew wages.
The consensus this year also seems to be that there aren't many crabs out there to be caught. Thursday afternoon, Pelligrini said he hadn't heard any early returns from fishermen peeking into their traps.
"I think everybody's scared to look at them," he said.
Bitts took a slightly more optimistic tone.
"We've said before we're pretty confident there aren't many crabs out there, but I hope we're wrong," he said.
Times-Standard staff writer Will Houston contributed to this report.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThadeusGreenson.