Dungeness season draws hundreds

SAN FRANCISCO - Just a few miles off the California coast, Mike Thayer reached over the side of his boat and pulled up a round, steel-wire trap with more than a dozen Dungeness crabs squirming inside.

"Golden treasures! That's what we came here for," the 50-year-old fisherman from Bellingham, Wash., said as he grabbed two meaty crustaceans from the truck tire-sized cage. "They're feisty this year."

Hundreds of fishermen are swarming the waters west of the San Francisco Bay area in the frenzied opening days of the Dungeness crab season, which began Nov. 15. Sport fishermen were allowed to start pulling their traps four days earlier.

On opening day, the crabbers went to work with blue skies and gently rolling waters. The ocean was littered with bright-colored buoys marking where traps had been set below, and fishing boats could be seen in all directions.

The Central California fishery, which stretches from Monterey County to Mendocino County, is the first to open on the West Coast, and crabbers are racing to harvest the 10-legged delicacies many Northern Californians expect for Thanksgiving.

"It looks good so far," said Mel Wickliffe of Alber Seafoods, as he helped unload giant crates of live crab at Fisherman's Wharf.