SANTA CRUZ -- It was a tasty weekend for Dungeness crab fans, as recreational crab season opened Saturday with early indicators pointing to a promising season.
"All in all they seem to be off to a good start," said Bryson Drake, a deputy harbormaster at the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.
And the sports fishermen have the bounty to themselves for a few days, as commercial season doesn't begin until Nov. 15.
Carl Azevedo of Santa Cruz and a few friends hauled in their limit of 10 crabs per person Sunday and were boiling them in a large pot connected to a butane tank on S dock.
Azevedo, a retired commercial fisherman who owns a boat called Boccie Boy, said he used anchovies, sardines and squid as bait and put his pots down about 8 miles out. He said that the average Dungeness they hauled in was about a pound and a half.
"I just get some for friends these days," said Azevedo, who said he was one of the first two fishermen in the harbor decades ago. "They are excellent; they have a taste all their own."
According to the website for Santa Cruz harbor-based Bayside Marine, crabbing reports were great Saturday, with limits reported early in 170 to 200 feet of water up the coast near Five Mile Beach.
Fisherman Tom Ghio of Santa Cruz said regulators are planning to limit the number of crab pots commercial fishermen can put out for the first time, starting next year.
"But they've had some banner years recently," Ghio said.
State officials confirmed the strong showings in a recent statement announcing the season opener, the first Saturday in November.
"Crab populations appear to be strong coming off another record-setting year in the commercial fishery," said Department of Fish and Game scientist Pete Kalvass.
Sunday, commercial fishermen had stacks of metal crab pots assembled and ready to go near the R, S and T docks at the harbor and the launch area, closer to the bay, was full of trucks towing boats in and out of the water.
On R dock, Tom "Biggie" Rouhier of Scotts Valley was preparing a boat he recently bought, Tidepoint, for crabbing season.
"All the guys are getting ready," Rouhier said. "I hope it's a good season. There's some crab out there; they've been getting them."
State regulations dictate that any crabs taken be at least 5 3/4 inches in diameter for recreational fishermen and 6 1/4 inches for commercial fishermen.
The Department of Fish and Game states Dungeness crab generally prefer cooler Northern and Central California waters and are usually found on sandy or sand-mud bottoms at depths of less than 300 feet.
No crab can legally be taken from San Francisco or San Pablo bays, which are important crab nursery areas.
The most popular methods for catching the tasty crustaceans are with crab pots, loop traps and hoop nets, though some divers retrieve them by hand, state officials said.
For information, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/invertebrate/crabs.asp.
Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9 ___
(c)2012 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)
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