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‘New normal’: San Francisco fishermen say Bay Area Dungeness crab season may never again start before Thanksgiving

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SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — It’s going to be harder to find local crab this Thanksgiving — and possibly for many Thanksgivings to come.

For the fourth year in a row, the start of San Francisco’s Dungeness crab season has been delayed, and local fishermen say a later crab season may now have shifted for good.

“I think it is the new normal,” Max Boland, the vice president of sales at Safecoast Seafoods, a wholesale fishing company on Fisherman’s Wharf, told ABC7 News. “I think the earliest we will start ever again will be around the 15th of December, and more likely could be January 1st.”

RELATED: Commercial crab season delayed to protect whales off California coast

John Barnett, a commercial crab fisherman and the president of the San Francisco Boat Owners Association, agrees.

“I believe it probably is the new normal, but I don’t know if there’s necessarily a normal yet to say that about,” Barnett said. “I think there’s a very good chance in future years that we can work some of this stuff out and get out fishing before Christmas. That’s my hope. Before Thanksgiving? That might be more difficult.”

On Monday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife yet again pushed back the start of crab season as a way to protect humpback whales in the Bay from getting entangled in crabbing gear.

Global warming has been cited as one factor contributing to why there may be so many whales still off the coast of the Bay Area. They seem to be migrating south later in the year. Barnett said he believes the increasing whale population is another factor.

“It is extremely challenging for the whole industry to deal with this,” Barnett said. “It’s difficult for the fisherman and the fish markets. They’re trying to get a product out of the holidays, maybe just by Christmas, maybe not.”

MORE: Billions of snow crabs disappeared from waters around Alaska, canceling harvest

At many of the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf, crab is still on the menu. But if you want it, it’s going to cost you.

Gordon Drysdale, the culinary director at Scoma’s, said the restaurant is paying nearly double what they used to to get crab from out of state.

“Crab has gone insane in the last 18 months,” he said. “I don’t know if those prices are ever going to come down.”

“Prior to the pandemic we were probably paying mid-20s for a can of fresh crab from southern Oregon,” Drysdale explained. “Right now that same crab has been holding steady at like 42 or 43 dollars.”

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Drysdale said they are mostly getting their crab from the Pacific Northwest and sometimes Alaska. Boland said they are also sourcing crab from Canada and the Puget Sound.

Frozen crab is another option for some restaurants.

Barnett said for fishermen who depend on the busy holiday season for their livelihood, they hope to find some kind of long-term solution.

“It’s always been part of our holidays. It’s always been a wintertime thing and we want to keep it that way. I think everybody wants to keep it that way,” Barnett said. “I think the consumers want to enjoy it, the city San Francisco wants that to be part of their image, and rightly so. And the fishermen want to go out and sell it because it’s their business.”

“Let’s hope that we can keep it around for at least part of the holiday and figure out how we can make this work,” he added.

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