Steamed, boiled, even microwaved – Dungeness crab has been a long time Bay Area food tradition. But as is widely known, for the fourth year in a row, local Dungeness crab is not for sale in time for Thanksgiving, due to commercial crab fishing restrictions put in place to protect whales from entanglement in fishing gear ropes. 

Fear not, a recreational option still exists: fishing for it yourself. 

A couple walks down Pacifica Pier with their crab fishing gear in tow on November 17th, 2022. (Photo by Sachi Mulkey)

Either by purchasing their own gear and heading out to a beach or pier, kayaking out beyond  the bay, or signing up for a chartered fishing boat trip, Bay Area residents can still secure local Dungeness crab for their Thanksgiving tables.

Before getting started, the “main thing to know is getting a license, and making sure you have the appropriate equipment,” says Ryan Bartling, senior environmental scientist at California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which provides licenses online or from a list of approved vendors on its website.

Chris Lazalde and his sister sit by their fishing rods at Ocean Beach on November 17th, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sachi Mulkey)

According to CDFW regulations, recreational fishers are allowed to use crab snares and hoop nets. Crab pots, fishers’ preferred method of catching crab, are currently banned due to their long rope lines and the number of whales detected in the area.

Snares are small cages that lure crabs with bait in a cage attached to the end of fishing rod lines. The cage is surrounded by loops that then ensnare the baited crab’s legs. Crabbing with snares is a popular option for those fishing from the beach or off a pier.

Hoop nets hold bait inside a volcano-shaped rings-and-netting structure attached to a long rope, which scoops up lured crabs from the ocean floor when the net is retrieved. Hoop nets are used from piers or off boats. Because of their ropes, Bartling urges fishers to be mindful of the risk of whale entanglements when using hoop nets in deeper water.

With the right papers and gear in hand, location becomes key to a successful crabbing trip. Regulations do not permit Dungeness crab to be fished from inside San Francisco or San Pablo bay, but outside the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacifica Pier and Ocean Beach have become hot spots for hopeful Dungeness crab fishers.

Chris Lazalde measures a crab with a crab gauge at Ocean Beach on November 17th, 2022. Regulations require Dungeness crabs under 5 ¾ inches to be returned to the ocean to ensure a healthy crab stock. Photo by Sachi Mulkey

“The best thing to do is come down here, be enthusiastic and talk to people,” said Walter Shin, 64, who frequents Pacifica Pier as a life-long recreational crab fisher. “A knot could be tied 3 different ways, but by listening you can learn everything you need to know.” 

“Most of the time we catch our own because the out-of-state crab is so expensive,” said Kristel Lazalde, 30, while fishing off of Ocean Beach with her brother, Chris. For their family, Dungeness crab is a Thanksgiving staple.

Some fishers have even turned to kayaking out of the bay for their own crab. On his YouTube channel Outdoor Chef Life, almost half a million subscribers watched 30-year-old sushi chef Taku Kondo drop hoop nets off the edge of his kayak on the opening day of Dungeness crab fishing season. By the end of his trip, Taku had caught the CDFW daily allowed limit of 10 crabs per person. 

“Make sure you’re in an area that you feel safe in,” said Bartling, who has noticed the increased popularity of kayak fishing while conducting CDFW aerial surveys of the bay. For Bartling and other CDFW staffers, safety of boaters is a priority.

Public piers are a popular option for casual fishers because they do not require a license. But if you want to fish for crab from the beach, or go out in a boat, a recreational fishing license is required. Updated license prices are available on the CDFW website; this year, a day pass will set you back $19.18, while a one-year pass costs $58.58.

Captain Andy Giuliano of the Pacific Pearl charter boat recommends that those interested in catching Dungeness crab put their chances in the hands of a professional before investing in gear and licenses. 

“Nothing has more devils in the details than crab fishing,” says Giuliano, who owns Fish Emeryville, a bait-and-tackle shop that provides booking services for the charter boats, also called party boats, in the Emeryville Marina. “Get on a boat, see if you like it, come out and have some fun.”

Clay Dashner stacks hoop nets at the end of a chartered fishing trip at the Emeryville Marina on November 17th, 2022. (Photo by Sachi Mulkey)

Depending on their size, charter boats can take 5-20 passengers for day-long fishing trips outside the bay with an experienced crew. Giuliano and other boat captains recommend booking the popular Rock cod and Dungeness combo trip, where passengers can hope for 10 Rock cod and 10 Dungeness crab per person. At the end of the trip, the crew can cook and clean the crab for the passengers.

Charter boats can often be booked through their docking marina’s bait-and-tackle shop, or directly on their business websites. Giuliano says that as long as the weather is good, Emeryville charter boat trips run every day in November, with three boats running on Thanksgiving morning. Charter boats also run regularly out of Berkeley Marina, and Richmond Marina.

Even if fishing isn’t for you, you can still get crab for Thanksgiving while supporting your local fish store: East Bay vendors like Monterey Fish Market and Tokyo Fish Market are securing live Dungeness crab from out-of-state for the holiday season.

Marcus Castelo puts bags of freshly-caught crab to boil for charter boat passengers at the Emeryville Marina on November 17th, 2022. (Photo by Sachi Mulkey)

“The local Dungeness crab is pretty unique, with a special sweetness,” said Miles Mountjoy, the sales manager of Monterey Fish, “but if you have a plateful of Washington Dungeness crab without a side-by-side comparison, you won’t notice the difference.” Mountjoy recommends customers place their orders soon, as prices tend to climb closer to the holidays. 

For those interested in recreational crab fishing, the CDFW recommends reviewing the latest guidelines available on their website.