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North Coast tradition renewed as Dungeness crab delivered to Sonoma County ahead of New Year’s Eve

The rush to renew a North Coast New Year’s tradition — feasting on freshly caught Dungeness crab — may help ease the pinch of a late start to the season for fishermen and retailers, but mediocre early returns have so far added a little lemon juice to the cut endured this year by the fleet.

“I won’t say it’s poor,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg, before offering a laugh. “I’ll say it’s less than good. It’s not exactly what we had expected. Our original anticipation was that there were a fair quantity of crabs in the area. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

The prediction of a mountain of Dungeness crab lying in wait at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean prompted a number of fishing boats from outside the area to descend this month on Bodega Bay.

They had time, as the season was delayed a month until Dec. 15 to allow endangered humpback whales time to clear the area and head south to their winter home off the coast of Mexico.

Ogg, the vice president of Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association, said the added pressure didn’t help matters, but it ultimately comes down to this: There just aren’t as many crabs as predicted. And at this point, Ogg said, “the majority have been caught.”

The news comes as the industry— from fishermen and processors to wholesalers and retailers — which missed out on the windfall that typically comes around Thanksgiving crab dinners, gears up for another big holiday feast.

New Year’s Eve has plenty of traditional foods across the world, but people on the North Coast are particularly fond of freshly caught crab.

The holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, line up pretty well with the typical start to the season.

“I think New Year’s just falls into place,” said Ogg, who has run boats out of Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg for 20 years.

Nicholas Svedise, whose family owns Santa Rosa Seafood, said the delayed season — and particularly missing out on Thanksgiving — has hurt business this year for his store.

“Fifty percent of our business during the holidays is crab,” Svedise said, adding that sales for Thanksgiving and Christmas usually outpace sales for New Year’s Eve.

“It’s always been a tradition for Bay Area residents to go for crab for Thanksgiving.”

Svedise said demand is still pretty high for the product, and Santa Rosa Seafood is selling 2-pound Dungeness crab for $15.99. The price on Monday at Oliver’s Markets was $6.99 per pound.

The opening price for fishermen selling their product to processors was $3 per pound.

The first few weeks of crab season determine how the season is going to look for fishermen.

Last year California brought in $63.5 million worth of crab, and Bodega Bay had $5.5 million.

But those numbers are for the calendar year, so they doesn’t reflect the loss of 2½ months at the end of last season when crabbers were ordered to pull their gear from the ocean to safeguard migratory whales.

And few if any past seasons compare to the current one, according to Ogg, who explained how he has rolled so far with the uneven harvest.

“When we first went out this time, the catch was relatively good,” Ogg said.

“But what really tells us is when we pull the gear the second time, and you see a 50% to 60% reduction. Once you see that dropoff … that’s why I’m saying this is not, obviously, a very good year.”

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