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Local Intelligence: Crabbers, Bodega Bay

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It's crab season, and local fishermen are hauling in thousands of pounds of the crustaceans

Crab season is here and Spud Point Crab Company, based in Bodega Bay, is enjoying its best run in more than seven years. Fishing offshore for up to 36 hours at a time, its five boats set traps and collect up to 8,000 pounds of Dungeness crabs before returning to their dock.

SALTY DOGS

Crab boats are not empty vessels: Tony Anello, owner of Spud Point Crab Company, keeps his equipped with electric refrigerators, diesel stoves and microwave ovens to cook meals for the three-man crew, and there is a gigantic aluminum tank to hold the crabs. Each boat costs about $200,000 and travels at 6 to 10 knots.

SNARING SHELLFISH

Crab traps consist of cages called “pots” that are 33 to 40 inches in diameter. They are constructed of steel rods wrapped with rubber strips of inner tube. Crabs enter via a one-way tunnel seeking bait: squid, mackerel or sardines.

SURF TURF

Anywhere from 20 to 100 crab pots are lowered to the ocean floor at a time. Every crab fisherman has buoys marked with a unique color scheme that mark the location and determine the ownership.

FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE

Crab season started Nov. 15 and lasts until June 30, but the majority of the tasty crustaceans will be caught by Christmas. Tadich Grill in San Francisco’s Financial District has been serving Dungeness crab legs since 1849.

SOME ARE SPARED

Only adult male crabs are harvested. Undersize crabs — less than 6.25 inches across — can exit the pots via “escape rings” that allow only the smaller ones to pass through. Female crabs are thrown back; they’re identifiable because they have a wider abdominal shell than the males.

DANGEROUS CATCH

Crabbing can be hazardous. A Spud Point Crab Company deckhand had three fingers torn off this year by the “power-block,” the hydraulic machine that lifts the crab pots. Last year, another crew member fell overboard into 50-degree water, but was rescued in two minutes.

HEALTHY NUMBERS

Dungeness crabs thrive from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Santa Barbara. They are not the least bit endangered: Seafood Watch gives them a “best choice” rating because they have maintained their population levels for the last 50 years.

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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