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First catch of crab season arrives at Sonoma County grocery stores

Yosief Asgedom, left, and Reuben Caballero grab cooked crab for customers at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

(Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.

Freshly caught Dungeness crab from Bodega Bay was back on sale in Sonoma County markets on Friday, and customers lined up to buy the succulent seafood.

“Our mouths are watering,” said Dawn Johnson-Huff of Windsor, who came down to the G&G Supermarket on College Avenue to buy two cooked crabs.

“Oh yeah,” said her husband, Tony, whom Dawn described as “the biggest crab eater in the family.”

North Coast fishermen and seafood processors reached an agreement on the price of crab at the dock — $3 a pound — clearing the way for the opening of the commercial crab season on Thursday.

G&G got its first shipment of crabs late Thursday afternoon, said Teejay Lowe, chief executive officer of G&G Supermarkets.

“Everybody was excited about it,” he said.

On Friday morning, a truck from the coast delivered 2,000 pounds of the orange-colored cooked crustaceans and 1,300 pounds of live Dungeness in their dark brown shells.

Oliver's Market on Stony Point Road got its first crab at noon Friday, much to the relief of Meat Department Manager Mitch DeArmon.

“People have been asking about them for weeks,” he said.

Price negotiations between fishermen and processors delayed the Dungeness arrival for two weeks last year, missing the Thanksgiving feasts that for some families feature turkey, crab and prime rib.

Pacific Market in Santa Rosa and Whole Foods Market at Coddingtown also welcomed crabs on Friday.

“It's a very hot topic in Sonoma County,” said Thomas Seitzer, assistant team leader for seafood.

Dungeness devotees jump at the chance to chow down on the first catch of the season. “They miss it. They really want it,” he said.

Dungeness crabs inhabit the west coast of North America, and are harvested in California typically from November to about February or March, when the catch dwindles and fishermen shift to salmon.

Grocers said they stock frozen Dungeness and Alaskan crab the rest of the year, but nothing matches the fresh crustaceans for their delicate, slightly sweet taste.

Dungeness crabs also have a “best choice” rating on Seafood Watch, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's sustainable seafood advisory list.

Crabs for sale Friday came from the “first pull” of crab pots placed in the ocean as early as Tuesday.

Fishermen got 18 to 22 crabs per pot from Thursday's opening day pull, a “better than average” yield, said Michael Lucas, president of North Coast Fisheries in Santa Rosa, a crab processor and wholesaler.

The first pull historically averages six to 10 crabs per pot, he said. The last two years started with 50- to 60-crab pots, but those were the two best years in California crab harvest history, he said.

Dungeness crab catch in the area south of the Mendocino-Sonoma county line, including Bodega Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, totalled 15.5 million pounds in 2011-12 and 19.1 million in 2010-11, according to the Department of Fish and Game.

The average catch over the prior nine years was 4.2 million pounds.

G&G Supermarkets in Santa Rosa and Petaluma sell live and cooked crabs for $4.98 a pound, a price that allows scant profit margin. “What we call a loss leader,” Lowe said, noting that his family's markets have sold fresh crab for 40 years.

Oliver's Markets in Santa Rosa and Cotati price them at $5.99. Most people like them cracked and cleaned, a free service, but some prefer the ritual of cracking crab at home on a covered surface.

“It's a family ritual,” DeArmon said.

Pacific Market charges $6.99 a pound, and Whole Foods, which expects to have fresh crab in all four Sonoma Country stores today, charges $7.99 a pound.

Leonard Mendoza of Santa Rosa bought four cooked crabs Friday morning at G&G. Asked when he planned to eat them, Mendoza said: “Now, probably for lunch.”

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