Dungeness crab is a Christmas tradition for seafood lovers across Southern California. But not this year. A combination of a difficult season and this week’s stormy weather has left the area’s life tanks empty – or even worse, filled with only Maine lobsters (the indignity!).
The first blow from nature was the California Department of Fish and Game delaying the opening of the northern part of the Northern California Dungeness season. The department’s quality tests in the northern fishery found too high a percentage of underweight crabs.
The Dungeness fishery is a model for sustainability – not only are only male crabs allowed to be taken, but they must be of a minimum size and must contain a minimum amount of meat (25% of the body weight is ideal according to the agency).
Because of the lightweight crabs, the start of the season from Sonoma County north, which usually opens around Dec. 1, has been pushed back for a third time and won’t begin until Jan. 15.
That means that all of the California Dungeness crab catch must come from the southern part of the range, roughly San Francisco Bay to San Luis Obispo, where warmer waters tend to produce fewer crabs.
To make matters even worse, that area has been buffeted by a series of fierce winter storms over the last week, which have prevented crab boats from leaving the harbor.
As a result, Dungeness crabs were difficult if not impossible to find for Christmas. A spot check of five stores turned up only one crab – and it was already cooked and previously frozen.
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Photo: Dungeness crab Credit: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times