Crab season delayed as fishermen, wholesalers dispute prices

Those looking to ring in the New Year with crab may find local crab hard to find. The choice for now is do without or pay top dollar for crab from out of state. Not great options for that seasonal treat, right now the issue is money, crab fishermen and buyers are negotiating over the price.

Ringing in the New Year with crab is a Bay Area tradition, and Tom La Torre at Sabella and La Torre on Fisherman's Wharf says crab is in high demand. "We sold out Christmas Eve and we'll probably sell out tomorrow, New Year’s Eve too," said La Torre. "It's a limited supply but as of now we still have them."

La Torre says he's had to source crab from out of state, and if you can find someone who has crab, it's going to cost you. "We're selling them at $26 per pound," said La Torre. "These ones from Washington. The local, I'd guess we'd probably be in the neighborhood of $10 $12 a pound. Just guessing, so it's more than double."

The issue is an ongoing dispute between crabbers and the wholesalers who buy their catch, with wholesalers offering about $2.25 per pound, and crab fishermen saying they need about $3.30 to cover the costs of fuel, crews, insurance and maintenance.

So for now, they're sitting on the shore until it makes financial sense to go out to sea. "We need to get a certain price to meet expenses even though maybe the markets don't think it's worth that, said John Barnett from the Crab Boat Owners Association. "We have to get a certain amount so we can pay our crew, our crew can make money, all the employees we have, all the gear we have."

Barnett says the negotiations are ongoing, but even if they do strike a deal, it'll be after the New Year. "We're getting closer, I wouldn't say we're close, I wouldn't say we're way way off, but we're getting closer, we're working on it," said Barnett.

Even if a deal is reached in the next few days, rough weather is rolling in. Crabbers say they have to make safety their top priority when they do return to sea.