Dungeness crab as ‘good as it gets,’ but business is down significantly

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Limits of Dungeness crab are the rule as evidenced by a proud customer on the California Dawn II out of Berkeley Marina
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By DAVE HURLEY

SAN FRANCISCO – Similar to what occurred during the 2023 summer potluck season, the majority of party boats in the San Francisco Bay region remain tied to the docks in spite of incredible crab and rockfish action. With the northern California commercial Dungeness crab season in Fishing Zones 1 and 2 delayed until at least Dec.16 as the crab are not yet ready for market, and the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Fishing Zones 3 through 6 delayed due to the presence of many humpback whales leading to the potential for entanglement, party and private boaters have unfettered access to the crab grounds. The next risk assessment will take place on or around Dec. 7, and this assessment is expected to inform a potential commercial fishery opener and modification of the recreational trap restriction according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Normally, the boats out of Half Moon Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Bodega Bay are loaded with customers during the crab combination season, and even though 10-crab limits of big, beautiful Dungeness are virtually guaranteed, fewer boats have been working regularly. Perhaps it is the necessity to head out to 50 fathoms for rockfish, but the 10-fish sacks coming out of the deep water have been as heavy as they can be.

Captain Jerad Davis of the Salty Lady out of Sausalito and Captain Rick Powers of the New Sea Angler out of Bodega Bay took a two-boat charter from Plant Construction on Saturday, meeting at Rittenburg Bank for limits of huge vermilion, canary, yellowtail, and Boccaccio rockfish before pulling the hoops for a combined 40 limits of rockfish and crab. Davis said, “This is always one of our favorite charters, and the weather was good with just a bit of wind, and the rockfish were biting once the drift picked up.”

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CANARY AT THE ISLANDS – A member of the Plant Construction charter poses with pair of canary rockfish from Rittenburg Bank on the Salty Lady out of Sausalito.

Captain Jonathan Smith of the Happy Hooker out of Berkeley was also out on Saturday for limits of rockfish and crab, and even though they are available during the week, almost all their trips are on weekends. Two boats have been running consistently have been the California Dawn I and II out of Berkeley, and the two boats combined for a whopping 107 limits of rockfish and crab with a few lings to boot over the weekend.

Out of Half Moon Bay, Captain Michael Cabanas of the New Captain Pete is scoring up to 22 limits of Dungeness on crab-only trips while further north out of Fort Bragg, Captain Tim Gillespie of All Aboard Adventures has been operating either crab-only or combination trips for limits of both species. Gillespie said, “Even if the commercial season opens in our area, I think most boats will head south since we have to pull a number of traps for limits.” Traps are allowed out of Fort Bragg.

THE BIRD IS THE WORD – Deckhand Gary Furtado of the California Dawn II with a quality Rittenburg Bank canary rockfish.

There is less than a month before the rockfish season closes on Dec. 31, and crab-only trips will slow to a crawl when the Dungeness start clutching by February. If you want to have some fresh crab now, you must go out on a private or party boat until the opening of the commercial season.

DUNGENESS DUO – Limits of Dungeness crab are the rule as evidenced by this happy couple on the Happy Hooker out of Berkeley Marina
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