With the thunder of a seafaring stampede, dozens of crab boats filed out of the San Francisco harbor Monday morning for the first time this season – ending a price dispute that denied local crab lovers their prized crustaceans on Thanksgiving.
Fishermen voted early Monday to accept a base price of $2.25 from fish buyers, which was .50 cents more than last year’s price, but .25 cents less than what they wanted.
"This morning, the skipper of the Fierce Leader... said I don’t care what happens, I’m fishing today," said Fisherman Daniel Hannigan who attended the morning meeting. "In the middle of the crab meeting he left and went fishing.'
The breech in what had been a unified coalition lead to a vote by fisherman to start crabbing for the first time since the season opened on November 15th. Everywhere along the wharf, crews raced to load crab pots onto boats and gather-up bait. Boat after boat loaded to the brink with crab pots motored past the docks and out to the sea. Fisherman Tim Calvert looked on as crews used a winch to load The Lovely Martha with crab pots.
"It feels real good," he said. "I need the money."
Restlessness had been growing among crabbers who were counting on a crab season on par with last year’s record yield. Hannigan said it was tough to sit-out the start of the season knowing the abundance of crabs in the sea. “You see these skippers going crazy, deckhands that have no money,” he said. "Just sit around waiting and waiting."
Crab Boat Association President Larry Collins acknowledged the disappointment of crab lovers who missed their traditional Dungeness crab on Thanksgiving.
"I always feel bad when we can’t settle before Thanksgiving," Collins said. "But the crab, I hear is beautiful and everybody needs to get their salt water boiling."
Fishermen said this year marked the first time in over two decades that anything other than weather kept crab off Thanksgiving tables. Angel Cincotta, co-owner of the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company, was hopeful customers would return once the crab finally showed up.
"We’ll have to get them excited about it," said Cincotta. "A lot of them were hurt and disappointed for Thanksgiving."
Fishermen expected the first catch could start showing up in the Bay Area on Tuesday or Wednesday. The price is expected to fluctuate up or down once the early returns come in.
Cincotta said she had an inkling the crabbers were heading out this morning when she saw them running past barking into cell phones. Next came the lovely sound of boat engines firing-up and gliding out of the harbor.
"It is Christmas morning every time we get to unload a crab boat," she said.