Commercial crab fishermen are gearing up for Thursday’s opening of crab season, with vessels large and small starting to assemble pots at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay and along the Bay Area coast to catch Dungeness crabs.
The season, which opens each year on Nov. 15 from the Central Coast up to the North Bay’s Russian River, comes 13 days after recreational fishermen headed into the water to catch the crustaceans. The season runs through June 2013.
As of Dec. 1, the season will open for the northern coast up to the Oregon border.
According to 11th Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel safety specialist Peggy Murphy, who is based out of Alameda, the Coast Guard has been out in force prior to Thursday’s start of the season performing safety inspections.
“We go out and saturate all of the docks and harbors that have commercial crab fisherman,” Murphy said. “We offer them safety checks to make sure safety gear is working properly and they have what’s required by federal law.”
Any fisherman going beyond 3 miles from the coast is required to have a dockside exam in port, she said, which results in many mandated inspections.
Murphy said the checks occur year-round but are particularly concentrated before the start of crab season.
She highlighted that crab fishing is one of the most deadly of all West Coast commercial fisheries because of the way fishermen fish for the crabs.
She said the way fishermen maneuver and lift the pots full of crabs, confounded with vessels laden with heavy pots that make the boat unstable, and winter weather conditions, make for a dangerous combination while crabbing.
“There’s a lot of pressure to get out there and do it and get pots out there,” she said about the frenzy at the start of the season.
This is the last year that commercial boats will have an unlimited pot count.
By the 2013-14 season, limits will be in place based on vessel size and capacity.
“The idea is that it’s safer,” she said.
Pillar Point Harbor patrol officials said their office is directing traffic today as everyone sets up pots on their boats in the popular Half Moon Bay crabbing spot in anticipation of the midnight opening.
Other areas that see increased boating traffic during the first few weeks of the crab season include Bodega Bay, the Santa Cruz coast and in San Francisco waters.
The patrol office said the various vessels, ranging from smaller boats with 25 pots and a minimal crew to bigger commercial ships with 500 pots and many fishermen aboard, are offered protection from the harbor patrol once they’ve passed inspection with the Coast Guard.
Often the boats and fishermen must deal with mechanical problems and bad weather, while trying to out-catch the competition.
Harbor officials said the frantic pace to catch crabs at the start of the season tapers off within the first two to three weeks and is fairly slow by Christmas.
Crab season opens at this time of year based on when the Dungeness crabs have completed molting and grown into their hard shells.
More information about Dungeness crab season can be found at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/invertebrate/crabs.asp.