Let the Cracking Begin! Dungeness Crab Season is Underway

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Crab season has started in San Francisco. Crab fisherman are shown on the dock at Fisherman's Wharf bringing in their catch of massive amounts of crab. Vendors near the wharf serve and prepare crab. Video: Jonathan Morris, Video Editing: Peter Borg.

Last year something was missing from Thanksgiving festivities in the Bay Area--Dungeness crab. Crabbers were on strike, holding out for $2.50 a pound from buyers. Finally, they settled at $2.25 a pound, but the well-loved crustaceans did not arrive in time for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, that was not the case this year. A price was agreed upon, $3.00 a pound and crabbers hit the high seas; these tasty creatures are now showing up in grocery stores at prices that range from $5.99-$8.99 a pound and in restaurants with a wide range of dishes and price points.

This season, fishmongers are reporting that most Dungeness crabs average 1.5-2.3 pounds each. Photo Credit Martin Reed
This season, fishmongers are reporting that most Dungeness crabs average 1.5-2.3 pounds each. Photo Credit Martin Reed

Rocky Burns used to skipper the fishing vessel AL-W for the Dungeness season and now works at the online sustainable seafood company i love blue sea. He explained that the Dungeness crab fishery is sustainable due to three main components, or the 3 S’s as he calls them: Sex, Size, Season. “We throw back all females, and any males under 6 1/4 inches wide so they can reproduce,” he said. “As well, Dungeness shed their shells, or molt, at different times of the year, and which makes them delicate and susceptible to injury, so we don’t fish them during molting season.”

The AL-W returns to Pier 45 to offload Dungeness crab.  Photo Credit: Martin Reed.
The AL-W returns to Pier 45 to offload Dungeness crab. Photo Credit: Martin Reed.

Rocky explained that another element that makes them sustainable is they are caught with baited traps. These are designed to let smaller crabs and bycatch escape unharmed. Bycatch are other creatures that make their way into the traps that are not the intended catch.

So you can feel good about that Crab Louie that you are enjoying; fishermen are getting a fair price and while they are expecting a light season catch-wise, the crabs are coming in large and healthy right now. Yet there is danger lurking on the horizon for these delicious creatures. While the crabs are caught between 3-40 miles offshore, they spend a great deal of their lives in estuaries. Juvenile Dungeness crabs lose their shells as they grow, this process of molting helps them to grow new, larger shells. During these periods, they head into the San Francisco Bay for protection. They hide out in the eel grass and eat fish, mollusks, and other crustaceans before heading out to the deep waters. At times they even seek protection in clamshells.


So the threat to them does not necessarily lie in the fishing of them, but rather the health of our estuaries, which means restoring habitat along the shore and keeping the bay clean. According to the non-profit Save the Bay we can help the health of the bay through every day activities like not using plastic bags, (they claim to be first at getting a plastic bag ban passed), and make sure your garbage--cigarette butts and Styrofoam containers don’t blow into storm drains. In addition, what you put on your lawn and garden impacts the bay. Natural filters such as wetlands and marshes have been paved over in most cities. As a result, pollution--such as pesticides from lawns and gas leaks on roads gets washed straight into the bay. A great source for learning more about how to reduce ocean pollution by making your lawn and garden runoff less toxic can be found at Surfrider Foundation’s Guide to Ocean Friendly Gardening.

Another fear is increasing ocean acidification due to carbon emissions. Dr. Tessa Hill of UC Davis stated in an email, “Ocean acidification threatens the success of many organisms with shells, such as mussels, clams and oysters. Those animals provide habitat for many other organisms, so there will be a cascade of impacts through estuaries and the ocean. Estuaries are susceptible to both ocean acidification and climate change, which means they may experience changes in temperature, pH, and salinity in the future.” So this means that reducing our carbon emissions are critical when it comes to preserving Dungeness crabs.

So let’s protect our estuaries and in the meantime, enjoy the season’s bounty. Here are some places to find Dungeness:

Retail: Whole Foods Market/ Franklin & California Streets are selling Dungeness crab for $7.99, and they crack and clean them.

Restaurant: Prospect Restaurant is serving calamari stuffed with fresh Dungeness crab with ginger and shitake mushroom with spicy roasted kabocha squash, shishito pepper and mandarin relish. $15.00

List of Crab-Friendly San Francisco restaurants from 7x7

Retail: At Rockridge Market Hall fishmongers at Hapuku Fish Shop Dungeness crab. Buy them live or cooked, cracked or cleaned. $8.99 a pound.

Restaurant: Comal Berkeley is making Chilpachole de Jaiba, a spicy Dungeness crab soup with lentils. It’s part of a five-course meal at $45.00 per person. (The Chilpachole de Jaiba is a $3.00 add on.)

Retail: TwoXSea is the seafood retail store located inside Fish Restaurant in Sausalito. They are selling Dungeness for $6.99 cooked, $7.99 cracked and cleaned.

Restaurant: Picco Restaurant in Larkspur is making filet mignon with Dungeness crab, crispy potatoes and a crab butter sauce made with crab roe. $56.95. As well, they are serving hand rolled tagliatelle pasta with crab, scallions, chilies tossed in a sauce made of crab shells. $23.95

Retail: 99 Ranch Market in Mountain View is selling live Dungeness for $5.99 a pound.

Restaurant: Hong Kong Restaurant in Palo Alto (650) 251-9062 is serving Salt & Pepper crab for $24.00.

Retail: Princeton Seafood Company near Half Moon Bay is buying them right there at the harbor and selling them for $5.99 live and $6.50 cooked and cleaned.


Restaurant: Half Moon Bay Brewing Company is serving whole Dungeness crabs with drawn butter and garlic bread ($24.00) as well as a Dungeness Crab Roll with spicy remoulade sauce and a choice of fries or cole slaw ($18.50) And for another winter tradition, you can watch Mavericks Surf Contest from their dining room or patio.