A New Year’s Eve toast: Crab season to begin Saturday

Crab traps in the Santa Cruz Harbor.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

After delays due to poor-quality crab meat and threatened humpback whales along some areas of the coast, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife says Dungeness crab season will open statewide Dec. 31.

This story was originally featured in this week’s Lily Belli on Food newsletter. Be first the first to hear about food and drink news in Santa Cruz County — sign up for Lily’s email newsletter here and text alerts here.

It might indeed be a happy new year for crab lovers and local fishermen. Last Thursday, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife announced that the Dungeness crab season will open statewide on Saturday, Dec. 31. Fishing Zones 3-6, which includes all coastal areas south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line, will open under a 50% trap reduction. This means boats can drop only half of the pots they are permitted to drop under a full season opener. Santa Cruz County falls in Zone 3 and local fishermen will be able to start setting their gear Wednesday at 8:01 a.m.

While Zones 1-2 were delayed due to poor-quality crab meat, the season opener has been delayed in Zones 3-6 three times since the traditional Nov. 15 opening day due to the presence of humpback whales. The whales can become entangled in the crab fishing lines between the buoys on the surface of the water and the pots on the bottom of the ocean. As I reported last week, by opening the season with a 50% gear reduction, CDFW hopes that fewer traps in the water will mean fewer whale entanglements while still offering crab fishermen the opportunity to bring in some income. Whales are still particularly active in Zone 3, especially in waters around Point Reyes and the Farallon Islands, according to CDFW Director Charlton Bonham.

After Saturday, find fresh Dungeness crab in Santa Cruz County at H&H Fresh Fish in Santa Cruz and The Fish Lady in Capitola. Some local grocery stores will bring in live crabs, too — check with your local butcher department.