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Dungeness crab season opens, bringing fishermen to Bodega Bay in droves

The start of the recreational Dungeness crab season in California marks one of the busiest sport fishing days of the year in Bodega Bay, where campgrounds are full and people from all over California jostle for position at boat launches.

“People get crab fever,” said Rick Powers, owner of Bodega Bay Sport Fishing Center who plans to start dropping crab pots from his charter boat the New Sea Angler at the 12:01 a.m. starting time today. “They can’t wait for big, tasty jumbo crabs.”

About noon Friday, 12 hours before sport fishermen were allowed to set their traps, the mood was festive at Doran Beach Regional Park. Camps were set, beers cracked and barbecues lit.

John George, from the Sierra foothills in Calaveras County, sat in front of his recreational vehicle smoking a cigar and sipping suds with friends and family.

What started as an annual gathering between a small group of friends nearly two decades ago has turned into a family event with more than 30 people and three boats from across the state, George said.

“It’s a big party,” George said, “We have a camp with clam chowder, a camp with ribs, a camp with alcohol and a camp for kids.”

He and his friends planned to launch after daybreak to set their traps by Salmon Creek, away from the crowds in Bodega Bay.

But Anthony Drolet, of Petaluma, didn’t want to wait that long and planned to paddle his kayak off Doran Beach after midnight and set three small crab cages in 20 feet.

“If the weather works there’ll be a flotilla of plastic right off the beach with buoys and kayaks lit up with glow sticks,” Drolet said near his RV sheltering his wife, two kids and the family dog. Aston.

Domoic acid, the naturally occurring toxin which has plagued Dungeness crab fishing in California in recent years, doesn’t yet appear to be a problem for the recreational season on the Sonoma Coast, but things could change. The California Department of Public Health issued an advisory Friday not to eat the viscera, or guts, of crab caught in two locations between Fort Bragg and the Oregon border.

The National Weather Service said Friday’s rain front was set to move out by midday today, giving way to partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 50s.

Winds were expected out of the northwest at 10 to 20 mph, with surf at 5 to 7 feet — “not a big deal for this time of year,” said weather service forecaster Duane Dykema, a forecaster with the weather service.

Commercial crab boats will remain tied up in Bodega Bay until the season’s is is scheduled opener Nov. 15, barring a spike in biotoxin levels on the coast, according to California Fish and Wildlife reported.

Recreational crab fishermen can keep up to 10 adult male crabs, which need to be least 5 ¾ inches wide across the back of their shells. Crabbers will throw a variety of bait at the prized crustaceans from squid and sardines to chicken and cat food.

For the Coast Guard and Bodega Bay Fire, the first weekend of recreational crab season is at busy times. Rough seas on the opening weekend in 2014 factored in the deaths of four people off Bodega Head, one of the worst local boating accidents in recent memory.

Such events are rare, said Bodega Bay Fire Capt. Justin Fox, but first responders nevertheless are busy.

Bodega Bay Fire will have its rescue boat staffed all weekend, Fox said.

The most common emergency calls are often kayakers unable to paddle back to shore when the wind picks up, Fox said.

Kayak crabbers Meg and Dan McSweeney, of Novato, said they were paying attention to the wind and rain in the weekend forecast and don’t plan to paddle out until daylight today. The two have sought out crab every year for the past five years.

Asked if he tires of pulling full pots of crab to his boat, Dan McSweeney said it wasn’t a pasttime too taxing.

With a smile, his wife quipped, “You’re one to talk, I do all the work.”