Crab Strike Broken by San Francisco Fishermen

Story and photos by Kristine A. Wong

This story was the first to break the news that the 2011 Central Coast crab strike had been broken due to an unexpected action by fishermen at San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf. It was published (along with an accompanying photo gallery) as breaking news on Half Moon Bay Patch on Nov. 28, 2011 and was reprinted on Huffington Post San Francisco.

Fishermen in Pillar Point Harbor and ports along the Central Coast have been scrambling to get out to sea today to set their crab pots, despite no known confirmed price agreement with the buyers, according to Half Moon Bay fishermen.

“We don’t know how much we’re fishing for right now,” said Jim Anderson, an unofficial liaison for Half Moon Bay’s crab fishermen, as he readied his Allaine boat to head out today from Pillar Point Harbor.

According to Anderson, the strike was broken unexpectedly this morning when San Francisco boats left after some fishermen weren’t allowed to attend the price negotiations meeting this morning at Fishermen’s Wharf.

“A group of guys weren’t allowed to come to the meeting so they said they were going fishing, and when we were in the meeting people we heard the boats leaving,” Anderson said.

It is not currently known whether any of the fishermen and the seafood buyers agreed to a price per pound for the crab, Anderson said.

Large-scale seafood buyers could not be reached for more information on whether any price agreement had been met.

The San Francisco boats’ actions triggered fishermen in Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay to head out right away — in order to get a good position for their crab pots and maximize the amount of crabs their boat has a chance of bringing in, according to Half Moon Bay fisherman Bill Webb.

Half Moon Bay fishermen have said that this year’s supply of crabs are significantly lower than last year’s record-breaking season.

“I’m pissed right now, just like a lot of other fishermen,” said Webb via phone as he drove towards Pillar Point Harbor from his home in Antioch so he could ready his boat and head out to sea.

“We voted to hold out for $2.50 the other day [Friday] and now we don’t know what we’re fishing for. Right now Pillar Point Harbor is half-emptied out and it’s derby fishing,” he said.

Crab fishermen have been holding out for $2.50 per pound since the commercial season’s official start on Nov. 15. They also sat out Thanksgiving, which they say is a big part of their busiest season of the year.

Irene Hurwitz, who fishes with her husband John on the Irene Marie boat docked out of Pillar Point Harbor, said that there were rumors of an agreement for $2.25 a pound between the buyers, but “that’s all conjecture now,” she said.

Like others, the couple was readying today to set their pots as soon as possible.

“We’re not going to really know what the price is until we start bringing the crab in,” she said, “which will be late tomorrow at the earliest.”

Webb said that he and the other fishermen were upset because the next meeting had been originally scheduled for this Wednesday afternoon, and that if they had agreed to a price then all the fishermen would have agreed to leave Thursday morning so that everyone started the season from an equal position.

Many of the men live in farther-flung areas such as Watsonville and Sacramento, he said, and today had to unexpectedly drop what they were doing and drive over to go out fishing.

“We were supposed to all hold together,” Webb said.

“The boats that went out shot our bargaining power,” Hurwitz said. “To not go out now means we don’t even have a chance to set our [crab] gear.”

“It’s majorly disappointing to lose a big part of our sales for the year and not to reach an agreement with the buyers,” she said.

“And now to be faced with not having any agreement, and yet have no other choice but to go out fishing at this point…it’s discouraging,” Hurwitz said.

Crab Fishermen Decide to Sit Out Thanksgiving

Story and photos by Kristine A. Wong

This piece was the first to break the news that Central Coast fishermen decided to give up fishing for Thanksgiving with the hope of a better price per pound for their catch. It was published (with an accompanying photo gallery) as breaking news on Half Moon Bay Patch on Nov. 21, 2011.

If you want to eat fresh crab this Thanksgiving, you’re going to have to catch it yourself.

With the window of opportunity to meet Thanksgiving market demands diminishing quickly due to time and bad weather  — and large-scale buyers still holding tight to a price 50 cents short of the fishermen’s call for $2.50 a pound — over 30 boats in Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor decided this weekend not to head out in time to meet the holiday dinner rush.

“We’re the 99 percent waiting for the 1 percent of the fish buyers to share the wealth,” said Jim Anderson, an unofficial liaison for the crab fishermen docked out of Pillar Point Harbor.

Approximately 100 fishermen gathered at the harbor Saturday in the hopes of working out a solution that would be able to get their boats out during what is traditionally their most lucrative time of year.

Central Coast fishermen have stayed in port since the commercial season’s opening nearly a week ago on Nov. 15, saying that the large seafood buyers’ offer of $2 a pound doesn’t cover the rising costs of fuel, equipment and supplies needed to crab in 2011.

At the meeting, fishermen discussed how they could sell to smaller buyers — such as Morningstar Fisheries located at Pillar Point—  willing to pay $2.50 per pound.

Steve Melz of the Sunrise boat suggested fishing for $2.50 a pound on limits, a strategy which caps how many crabs each boat in the fleet is allowed to catch a day.

Melz said that fishing on limits would prevent the market to be flooded with crabs, a condition which could effectively lower the buying price offered by the larger buyers.

“It’s a way to slow the market down and still support the demand for a stream of crabs,” he said.

Other fishermen said some boats wouldn’t adhere to the limits, which would defeat the purpose of the gentlemen’s agreement.

“It’s not cost-effective for the larger boats to go out for a smaller amount,” said John Hurwitz, whose boat Irene Marie operates out of Pillar Point Harbor. “They would never agree to that.”

To settle the matter, Half Moon Bay fisherman Duncan MacLean asked each boat in attendance — over 30 at least — to write on a slip of paper their desired price per pound and whether they supported fishing limits.

Out of 41 votes, 34 wanted to keep their asking price at $2.50 per pound, 3 favored $2.25 and 4 were fine with the $2 offer. Two-thirds opposed fishing limits.

With the decision made, the group made plans to reconvene in another week, giving the men the opportunity to go home for Thanksgiving. MacLean and Anderson told those assembled to leave their contact information if the situation changed before then.

“Over Thanksgiving we’re going to have to do something creative,” MacLean said.

Crab Fishermen Get Green Light to Start Season

Story and photos by Kristine A Wong

This story was the first to break the news that after a prolonged wait, Central Coast fishermen were allowed start the Fall 2010 Dungeness crab season, after body composition tests met market requirements. It was published (with accompanying photos) as breaking news on Half Moon Bay Patch on Nov. 15, 2010.

A message written outside the Harbormaster’s office at Pillar Point Harbor today said it all. “Commercial Crab Season Opens November X??,” it read, with traces of the number “15” erased and a large X crossed out over the erased number.

But shortly before 5 pm, Duncan McLean, president of the Half Moon Bay Fisherman’s Association, said that the fishermen docked in Pillar Point Harbor would leave tomorrow at 6 am to start the season.

Though the start of the Dungeness Crab commercial fishing season legally and officially opened earlier today at midnight, local commercial fishermen at Pillar Point had been spending the day standing out on the pier instead of doing what they had originally planned to be doing at this time: crabbing.

The reason for the standoff was because local fishermen wanted to test the local crabs’ percentage of meat as part of its overall body composition to ensure that their catch would bring in stable market orders before the fleet could head out and drop their crab pots into the ocean.

“The rumors were that the crabs were not very good at all, so we wanted to get the price solidified to ensure good quality to the public and make sure the price is stable,” said Duncan McLean, president of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association.

“Usually a 22 percent portion of meat as part of the crab’s overall weight is what is needed to be marketable,” said John Draper, Assistant Harbormaster at Pillar Point Harbor.

Draper said that this morning, the crabs were sent out to be tested at North Coast Fisheries in Santa Rosa from Bodega Bay, San Francisco, and the waters outside Pillar Point Harbor.

Duncan McLean, president of the Half Moon Bay Fisherman’s Association, said earlier at 4:45 pm today that he was still waiting for the test results to come in from the crabs from Bodega Bay and San Francisco, and that a 6 am start tomorrow for the fishermen was a “definite maybe.”

Later, at 4:50 pm, after calling to confirm test results, McLean said that based on a  average of 26.84 percent in body composition tests from Bodega Bay, San Francisco, and outside Pillar Point Harbor, the fishermen were “good to go.”

Shortly after 3:30 pm this afternoon, McLean cited the test results from just the Pillar Point Harbor area when he was waiting for test results from all locations to come in. “The crabs [from outside the Pillar Point area] were good, a little over 27.4 percent,” McLean had said.

Bill Webb, who fishes off his boat Cricket (along with his dog that is named after his boat) which is based in a berth in Pillar Point Harbor, said earlier today that the fishermen were waiting to hear the official word from McLean that the fishermen had a market order based on the results of the crabs’ body composition tests.

Webb had heard the rumor that the fishermen weren’t going to be able to go out until tomorrow at 6 am. Mentions of the “6 am start” were overheard in several passing conversations around the harbor in the late afternoon.

“I’ve already got six pages of orders,” Webb said, sitting in his boat while he encouraged his dog Cricket to shake his hand with her paw. Webb sells some crab off his boat, and sells some to wholesalers.

“It’s tough,” Webb said about the state of this year’s fishing season. “Some of these guys have no salmon season…that used to be more than half my season,” he said. “So you put in more [crab] pots which cost more money…the pots come to about $200 each,” he said.

“It puts more pressure on the crab season than it can handle,” he said.