Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Sep 18th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Getting Crabby

news_crabbyCivility goes under as crab season opens

Santa Cruz crab boat captains who break strikes being held by the Half Moon Bay Fisherman's Association (HMBFA) risk having their equipment cut loose at sea and their boats sank, according to some fishermen.

This is what some think happened to skipper Chris Eatinger's vessel, Tonita, on the night of Nov. 12 while it was docked at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. It was three days until crab season opened and a strike was not yet confirmed. Those who suspect foul play say the act was likely in retaliation for Eatinger crabbing during past strikes.

“There was clearly criminal intent,” says Eatinger. “This could cost me more than $50,000 to rewire everything, and I might have to pay fines for oil spilled into the harbor. The worst part is I catch red rock crab, which is a commercially unimportant species.”

 

Most of the nearly 20 Santa Cruzans who captain crab boats dock in Pillar Point, putting them closer to the crab breeding grounds in the San Francisco Bay where the catch is best in the first—and most lucrative—month of the season. However, this means that when the other 60 crab boats docked there go on strike to get a better price from buyers, the Cruzans are more inclined to follow suit.

This year the HMBFA is asking for $2.50 per pound. Buyers have countered with an offer of $2. As the Nov. 15 opener passed, the HMBFA was waiting for buyers to do some crabbing themselves to test the quality before agreeing to $2.50.

A handful of boats in the Santa Cruz Harbor, such as the Sea Breeze, captained by Joe Tomasello, choose to ignore the politics 45 miles to the north. Tomasello sets his pots out each year on Nov. 14—the first day he can do so legally. He says the strikes are less about the price and more about keeping boats from Northern California, Oregon and Washington from traveling to get in the game down here.

news_crabby2Of crabs and crime. November is the first month of crab season, and the most lucrative for crab fishermen, but many don’t start right away out of fear of retaliation from fellow crabbers who are striking. The boats from Oregon and Washington that are able to migrate south can be scared off by talk of soft crabs because they have to wait 30 days after returning home before they can join the fleet. Soft-shelled crabs are too young to catch because less than 25 percent of their weight is meat. If these boats migrate south and the catch is not high quality, they are then stuck here or face missing the best part of the season in harbors back home.

“Last year [HMBFA] said the crab were soft, but then they got the price they wanted, and went out 18 hours later,” Tomasello says.

Despite his attempts to steer clear of the politics, Tomasello’s pots are no safer from crimes by other crabbers once he drops them on the ocean floor with brightly colored buoys bouncing on the swell. Most boats lay out between 100 and 500 pots. At a cost of more than $150 a piece, most are not willing to lose that amount of investment. No law enforcement can police the entire ocean, and it's almost impossible to catch someone cutting pots loose. Especially at night.

“All you need is a buoy hook and a good deck hand, then you just run down the lines [of pots] and cut them,” says one Santa Cruz crabber who asks to remain anonymous. “I just go with the flow [and stay docked] because I can't afford to lose all my gear.”

He doesn't want to risk being targeted, but also doesn't see any advantage of fighting over $.50 in price, while they lose precious time before bigger boats arrive from outside the area.

The week before Thanksgiving can make or break a small boat owner's income for the entire year, because sales are high and crabbers south of Point Arena near Sonoma have a virtual monopoly on Dungeness Crab in California. The season doesn't open further north until Dec. 1 most years. This year, that date has been pushed to Dec. 15 because tests show crab there still have soft shells. After that opener, competition gets stiff and prices drop no matter what the HMBFA negotiates with buyers in November.

“The first 29 to 30 days is when you make all your money,” says Tomasello.

Duncan MacLean, spokesperson for the HMBFA, says that if the tests buyers did net healthy crabs, he sees no reason why they can't pay $2.50. As far as the sinking of the Tonita, he says it was likely an accident caused by Eatinger himself.

“What we think is that a hose was left on and it filled [the hull] of the boat,” say MacLean. “He has been known to walk away and leave hoses running. I would hate to think that another fisherman did this.”

The Pillar Point Harbor Master's office did not return GT's request for comment on any investigation into the incident.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Feeding Frenzy

Culinary journey ‘The Trip to Italy’ isn’t the foodie film you’d expect 

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sweet Treats

Local cannabis bakers win award for cookies

 

What fashion trends do you want to see, or not see?

Santa Cruz  |  High School Guidance Counselor

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.