Crab fishing strike threatens supply


Crab fishing strike threatens supply

Dungeness crab lovers hoping to ring in the New Year with the tasty crustacean on their dinner plates could be in for a letdown.

A North Coast fishermen’s strike over the wholesale price of the traditional holiday treat has cut supply, causing some retailers to scramble to keep it in their stores.

With the fleet from Bodega Bay north to the Canadian border refusing to go out, it’s unclear whether companies such as Oliver’s Markets and Whole Foods can fill demand that typically causes lines to stretch out their doors.

“Availability could get a little sketchy as we move into the weekend,” said Todd Davis, meat and seafood coordinator for the Santa Rosa-based Oliver’s chain.

Davis said his supplier, Tides Wharf Wholesale Seafood in Bodega Bay, is affiliated with a fishery up the coast that will bring in non-local crab. Just how long that supply would hold out or how much would be available was not certain. The retail price for cooked crab remained the same — $5.99 a pound.

“There could be a shortage for tomorrow,” he said Friday. “I’m not sure how much crab we will get tonight.”

Meanwhile, talks between crabbers and wholesalers appeared to go nowhere Friday. The two sides remain at loggerheads over the going rate. Commercial fleets had been selling Dungeness at $3 a pound until Humboldt County wholesalers Pacific Group last week dropped what they were offering to $2.75 a pound, triggering a standoff.

At one of the busiest times for crab sales of the year, boats are tied to their docks in solidarity. The strike, which started Wednesday, was expected to extend to fleets in San Francisco and Half Moon Bay by Friday night, according to the Humboldt Fisherman’s Marketing Association.

“It’s not that we don’t want to fish, it’s just that we have an agreement that all boats get $3,” said Lorne Edwards, president of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association. “And we couldn’t achieve that.”

Some smaller wholesalers like Bodega Bay-based North Coast Fisheries are offering $3 a pound, but they’ve had no takers.

Owner Michael Lucas said he’s run out of local crab. His most recent shipment came from tribal fisheries in Washington.

He sold the last of it to his regular customers, Whole Foods and the Nugget market chain, and won’t have more this weekend.

“I’m sure there are stores out there that won’t have any crab,” Lucas said. “My phone has been ringing off the hook.”

The strike adds to an already hectic season for the Dungeness market. The season opened weeks later than usual this fall, and at times staggered by region, after testing showed the presence of domoic acid, a naturally occurring neurotoxin, in crabs.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or [email protected] On Twitter @ppayne.