Last week, commercial Dungeness crab fishermen reluctantly closed a deal on a price for their catch after weeks of tense negotiations with wholesale buyers and processors.
And with the negotiation settled, at 8 a.m. on Monday, fishermen set their gear into the water, making preparations to begin hauling in their catch.
On Friday, the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association announced that the fleet had agreed on a price of $2.75 per pound of crab, which fishermen are calling low but the best they could do. The fishermen agreed to the price under mounting financial loss and the prospect of even more losses should negotiations drag on.
“We haven’t fished for under $3 for some time, so the fishermen are frustrated, but they also wanted to get on the water. We were losing valuable time,” said Frank Sousa, a fisherman on the Bev A.
The commercial fishing season for Dungeness crab officially opened on Dec. 23, but the Half Moon Bay fleet sat out in protest after the first rounds of negotiations priced a pound of crab at $2.25 to $2.30, which fishermen said was unacceptable. By then, the season had already been delayed after whale sightings pushed the start date from Nov. 15 to Dec. 1. Then the season was pushed to Dec. 23. Both delays were due to whale sightings.
The initial delay in December meant that fishermen were losing out on peak Christmas sales. At the time, they hoped that the matter would be settled by New Year’s Day so they could leverage the last major holiday of the year. But that, too, passed without a satisfactory price.
Difficulty reaching a price acceptable to fishermen was not limited only to boats in Half Moon Bay. Fleets up and down the California coast reported similar challenges.
With several negotiations in different ports going on at the same time, the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association — the negotiating body for the area’s fleet — feared that the first inkling of a price agreement elsewhere on the coast would lead to a “shotgun start,” where boats rush out to sea in droves. The association was concerned fishermen would be willing to brave rough weather conditions to make up for lost time.
To prevent a chaotic and hazardous start, the Half Moon Bay association partnered with two other fishermen’s associations in the same regulatory district, the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association and the Bodega Bay Fishermen’s Marketing Association. On Dec. 29, the three groups announced a first-ever partnership along with a “gentlemen’s agreement,” in which they asked that all boats follow an association-created schedule that spelled out when they could begin setting their gear and hauling in the catch.
For the Half Moon Bay fleet, the permitted start time for laying out gear was 8 a.m. on Monday. By Jan. 15, crab should be available for purchase, according to the Half Moon Bay association.
Not everyone stuck to the gentlemen’s agreement. Some boats went out before the price was settled, but Sousa said most in the fleet complied.
“Historically, this was probably one of the lowest prices and the hardest price to achieve, but the best unity we had. And we think we got the best outcome we were going to get out of this,” he said.