A pilot program under which fresh crab may be sold fresh off the boats of commercial fishermen has been launched in San Francisco.
The Port of San Francisco began allowing live Dungeness crab sales direct from fishing vessels in Fisherman’s Wharf at the start of the commercial crab season on Dec. 29. This is the first crab season in San Francisco where consumers are able to buy live crabs directly from local fishers.
Off-the-boat crab sales were authorized for a pilot program by the San Francisco Port Commission in November.
“The kickoff of San Francisco’s commercial crab season is a highlight for so many of us, especially with it coming just in time for New Year’s Eve,” Mayor London Breed said. “This new program will support our family-run businesses and provide the incredible experience of being able to buy directly off the boats from the fisherman who are out there on the water.”
“We hope buying direct from the boat will be the start of a new tradition for residents and visitors,” Breed added.
Local residents and visitors may purchase Dungeness crab directly from any of the five permitted fishers participating in the pilot program. All fish and crab sold under the permit are to be offered whole—uncooked whole fish, gilled and gutted only—and in accordance with all health code regulations.
All fish and crab sales must occur from the vessel; no selling stations are allowed to be set up on or in any dock, wharf, parking area or other structure.
Port of San Francisco Executive Director Elaine Forbes said she was excited to launch the pilot, as it creates new opportunities for local fishers and Fisherman’s Wharf.
“Through this program local residents and visitors will be able to meet the courageous men and women who take to the seas so that we can enjoy the finest seafood in the country,” Forbes said.
Permitted fishers sell crab directly from their vessels in Fisherman’s Wharf’s inner and outer lagoons. Participating vessels and their locations are listed on the port’s website at sfport.com/crab.
Individual fishers use the Fish Line mobile application to provide details about when and where they’re open to the public for crab sales. Information is also available on the San Francisco off-the-boat sales Facebook group page.
“I’m happy to have the drop-and-pull days finally set. Crab fisherman are hoping for a prosperous and safe season, and I’m sure the public is excited to get fresh local crabs on their table,” Crab Boat Owners Association President John Barnett said. “This will be the first season in San Francisco that the public can actually buy live crabs from the fishermen off the boat. Good for the consumer, the fishermen and the environment.
Dungeness crab season traditionally starts Nov. 15. But since 2015, all but one commercial Dungeness season has been delayed either because of the presence of domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxin that contaminates shellfish, or fishing-line danger to whales.
The beginning of the commercial crab-fishing season was delayed in 2021 due to efforts to protect whales and other endangered species, such as leatherback turtles, from entanglements in the fishery. The delayed start follows a series of hardships that local fishers have endured, including a May 2020 shed fire at Pier 45 that destroyed equipment, as well as the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on the industry.
“Crabbers were hit hard by the double tragedy of the Pier 45 fire and the COVID shutdown,” said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who helped lead relief efforts with the port. “I’m thrilled to safely welcome locals and visitors alike back to the Wharf to engage in a classic San Francisco tradition: buying crab fresh off the boats.”
Off-the-boat fish sales are a way to help support local fishers and the growing Bay Area demand for locally sourced, sustainable seafood. The new pilot program, as Peskin noted, hearkens back to a lost tradition of direct sales from fishers to the public.
For more than 100 years, Fisherman’s Wharf has been a working commercial fishing hub and San Francisco maintains one of the largest fishing centers along the California coast. The commercial fishing industry has been centered at Pier 45, the northernmost pier in the Embarcadero Historic District.
The Port Commission authorized an off-the-boat retail fish sales pilot program in 2017 to expand commercial opportunities for fishers and to provide more customer experiences in Fisherman’s Wharf. On Nov. 9, the Port Commission authorized the one-year pilot program that added Dungeness crab to the list of species that may be sold off boats.
Dungeness crab season closes in July.
“Expanding opportunities for our local fishers is a priority for the Port Commission,” San Francisco Port Commission President Kimberly Brandon said. “The fishing industry is the heart and soul of Fisherman’s Wharf and we’re excited to grow this program that creates opportunities for fishers and residents.”