Crab season delay derails local holiday tradition

Very few places in the nation or world understand the long-held San Francisco tradition of crab for Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, it generates a lot of money for a big industry.

This is often a day when the crab boats are unloading their bounty at central and northern California harbors just in time for Thanksgiving. But with California, Oregon and Washington delaying their crab seasons indefinitely due to high levels of a toxic algae, there will be very little fresh Dungeness crab for Thanksgiving.

That has significant implications for crabbers, processors, retailers and consumers. Five generations of the Caito family have been processing fish in San Francisco for 130 years.

"We just have to wait and see to make sure that the levels come down for the safety of the public and once that's done, then we can go fishing," said Jeanette Caito.

Ongoing lab tests from the California Department of Public Health show some levels of toxin 100 percent higher than acceptable levels, less over the limits elsewhere.

While most recent lab tests show the immediate San Francisco area having zero percent, the area must pass several tests spaced several days apart, before fishing rights are restored.

"So they're going do another test next week, and if all five of those pass, then they're open the sport guys and do another test and if that passes again, we're going," says Tommy Huizenga, a Washington state crab fisherman.

Though a few tribal crab grounds off Washington state are open, they cannot possibly fill the demand. That puts the $170 million crab catch on hold at least until later in December.

There are some crabs available and they're good, but the price is $16.95 a pound.

"We have to depend of Mother Nature and this is, again, the situation with Mother Nature. And once we resolve it, we can go fishing," said Caito.

"In salmon, you know, when I was a lot younger, we were shut down for a whole year. But other than that, [it’s] very rare. Very rare to be totally shut down but the season's not over yet," added Huizenga.

Other seafood is completely unaffected.

"Oh, we're still processing fish. The boats are still going out and we're processing and we're still working," said Caito.

While crab season delays are common, this year’s is the biggest one ever.