Price war keeps crab fishermen at port

San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf
November 21, 2011 8:13:04 PM PST
Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away and in most Bay Area households that usually means turkey, but some are also hoping for crab. It may be a long wait; the crab season has started however the boats are not going out.

There's a price war between the fishermen and distributors. If you're looking for crab at Fisherman's Wharf, forget local, fresh Dungeness. Rich Coco is cracking frozen fish, but it's not the same.

"No crab and it's terrible that we have no crab," said Coco.

The crab pots are stacked up. The boats are idling in the bay. Like Thanksgiving itself, a price dispute has become something of a tradition. This year the fishermen want $2.50 cents a pound. The processors and distributors want to pay $2.00.

"50 cents, which on thousands of pounds, 50 cents is a lot of money," said crab fisherman Michael Mitchell.

Mitchell has been fishing for 41 years. He and the other crab boat owners say the price of fuel is up, so is the cost of bait and gear. They believe it's worth forfeiting the lucrative Thanksgiving market to get what they're asking for.

"We've always crumbled. This is the first year we've stuck tight together, so we'll see who can push harder," said crab fisherman Tim Calvert.

But there's a different perspective over at Alioto-Lazio, buyers in the business since 1940.

"What you're seeing on our side is we can only offer so much because the consumers are only going to be able to pay so much," said Angel Cincotta from the Alioto-Lazio Fish Company.

In this battle of wills, the local fishermen even have their out of state rivals on their side. Including Dennis Sturgell, an Oregon crabber.

"We all need the money, but we don't want to fish for nothing," said Sturgell.

"Some of the small buyers did offer these guys their $2.50 and even some went as high as $3.00 and they refused to move because of the retaliation they would receive," said Cincotta.

But fishermen claim bullying by large processors is keeping most small buyers in line. Customers are caught in the middle.

"I want crab. Everybody wants crab. This is our tradition," said Coco.

Usually there are these disputes, but usually they're settled at the last minute, but not this time around. No talks are scheduled. By the way, the fishermen agreed to a $1.75 per pound last year.


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