Somehow, someway, ‘tis already the season for holiday meals and festive gatherings. As Thanksgiving approaches, seafood lovers on the Pacific Coast have one specialty on their minds: Dungeness crab. Today we’ll learn more about this beloved crustacean and how you can get your hands on them this fall and winter!
Dungeness crabs are reddish orange in color, and live on sandy bottoms along the Pacific Coast of North America. Dungeness crabs are hard-shelled and have firm but tender meat that is buttery, sweet, and slightly nutty at the same time. Honestly, they are delicious eaten all on their own.
They're an integral part of Cioppino as well––one of San Francisco's finest local dishes. The most popular way people cook Dungeness Crab is by boiling/steaming them for 15-20 minutes. They're served best cracked with butter. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Dungeness crabs are the most abundant crab in California but diminish in abundance once you travel south of Monterey Bay. This is to say, we’re incredibly lucky to live where they flourish!
Dungeness crabs are named after Dungeness, Washington, a port town at the border of Washington state and Canada. Dungeness was home to the Pacific Coast’s oldest commercial shellfish fishery, which began in 1848, forty one years before Washington even became a state! Dungeness crabs are a prized possession in this area and are one of the most valuable fisheries on the West coast.
Dungeness crab season typically runs from November through June, and is often a hallmark (and dinner staple) of the holiday season. The 2021 California Dungeness crab season was originally set to open on November 6th. However, the opening has been delayed for fishermen from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line down to Lopez Point off Monterey Bay. The reason for this is the presence of humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles, who are at risk of being caught in fishing gear (e.g. crab pots).
In fact, California’s commercial Dungeness crab season has been delayed every year except for one since 2015. The season-to-season evaluation of fishery openings stems partially from a 2017 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued California state over increasing entanglements of marine mammals and sea turtles in fishing gear. A resulting policy dictates that crab season can be delayed if and when twenty whales are sighted within a day. These fishery regulations--set by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife--are in place to monitor, and ultimately protect, marine life.
To collect and analyze data on the presence of whales and turtles of each fishing zone, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife works with a comprehensive set of partners, including government agencies, scientific partners, and working groups like the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Groups. The data they use include aerial surveys, fishing vessel-based surveys, and satellite data.
Officials may not re-assess the Dungeness crab season opening date until late November. For commercial fishing zones north of the Bay Area, crabbing won’t open until early December.
While we may not get to enjoy Thanksgiving crab this year, stay tuned for updates and come visit us to see what local species we’ve got to offer!
This year is the first in which the recreational Dungeness crab fishery is subject to similar limitations as the commercial fishery. In an effort to prevent marine life entanglements, recreational Dungeness crabbers are not allowed to use crab pots at this time. Instead, they can only use alternative catch methods like hoop nets and crab snares. These gear types are deemed safer than crab pots because they’re not left to “soak” in the water for long periods of the day, thereby reducing the risk of trapping marine life.
Wondering how you can find Dungeness crab? Visit your local restaurants for crab in the meantime, including Crazy Crab in Santa Cruz, Boiling Crab in San Jose, and a number of establishments in Half Moon Bay, a hotspot for Dungeness Crab.
Sign up for text alerts from H&H by texting hhfreshfish to (984) 205-2382. We’ll let you know as soon as Dungeness crab and other local fish arrive in our shop at the Santa Cruz Harbor! As always, we also carry picking tools, crab boil, old bay and anything else you might need to enjoy your fresh seafood (truly, a one stop shop!). You can also find updates on our Instagram @HHFreshFishCo or visit us at our 16 farmers’ market locations from San Francisco and Oakland down to Santa Cruz County.
Did you know? The team at H&H Fresh Fish Co also operates a catering business called Shucked Raw Bar! We are happy to cater any of your parties, weddings, and corporate events.
This year, in addition to oysters, we’re excited to offer Dungeness Crab Feeds too! What's a crab feed? Think of a New England clambake where copious seafood, potatoes, sausage, corn on the cob are steamed and lined up along a table for a feast to remember. We’ll take care of you end-to-end, from covering your table with paper, bringing bibs, cleaning and cooking the seafood to making sure you have all the tools and fixings. Reach out to us via Instagram @HHFreshFishCo, email [email protected], or through our website.