HALF MOON BAY -- It was too good to be true.
The Dungeness crab season got underway last month without a price dispute after fishermen and wholesale buyers agreed on a price of $3 a pound for crab. But that deal fell apart this week, and fishermen from Bodega Bay to Half Moon Bay are refusing to return to sea.
Strikes by fishermen are almost as much of a fall tradition as the succulent crabs themselves. This one occurred, fishermen say, when some buyers reacted to a post-Thanksgiving lull in demand by offering only $2.50 a pound for crab. Unhappy fishermen are holding out for the original sum.
"We just want to get paid the same as we did before," said Jim Anderson, captain of the Allaine based in Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay.
After Thanksgiving, consumers turned their attention to Christmas shopping and other holiday preparations, Anderson said. But demand for crabs will spike again in about a week, he said, once people start putting in orders for holiday meals.
The stoppage has already had an impact at grocery stores, where supplies are low. On Thursday, Draeger's and Whole Foods markets in San Mateo were out of whole crabs. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods said no stores in the chain have any fresh whole crabs from California in stock.
Fishermen say there aren't as many crabs in the ocean as there were last season, but the quality of the crustaceans is good. The 2011-12 season for the area from Sonoma County down to San Luis Obispo started a couple weeks late because of a strike, but fishermen in that region went on to catch nearly 15.5 million pounds of crab, second-most in history, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. Last season's statewide total of roughly 31.7 million pounds was the most ever recorded.
Bill Webb, who ¿works out of Pillar Point Harbor, sells his crab at the pier, but he's keeping his boat docked in solidarity with the fishermen who unload to wholesale buyers. Not being able to fish is a financial blow, he said.
"I've got a lot of orders, people calling if I have crab," Webb said. "I just have to tell people every few days to check back, because I can't go until the strike is over."
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.