Claudia Elliot

Bounder’s Fresh Crab is in its sixth year of operation and, on Sunday, the first day of this year’s crab season, Leslie’s husband, Bill Wood, was at sea in the Melissa, bringing in the first haul just in time for Christmas.

“He catches ‘em, and I sell ‘em,” Leslie Wood said with a laugh as she pulled live crab from a tank then plunged it into a boiling brine.

Propane-fueled flames hissed and rumbled under two recycled beer barrels. The crab cook tested each creature with a thermometer, noting that the average crab takes about 15 minutes to be ready. In that time the crab’s shell color changes from a purplish tone to the familiar cheery orange-red.

The weather was fair Monday afternoon, and the mood on the dock was buoyant as a steady stream of customers made their way down to the crab shack.

As the dock rocked slightly, Wood chatted with customers, fielded calls on a cell phone, made notations on a lined yellow pad and kept the crab moving. From the live tank to the cook pot and then to a stainless steel sink where she cleaned and prepared them for customers.

Leonard Shoemaker was among those waiting for crab Monday afternoon. The pair Wood had just processed were lighter than he wanted, so he waited for the next batch.

A Brookings resident since 1963, Shoemaker says he and his wife always buy crab when the season begins.

“Whatever it costs I’m going to have it because it’s something special,” he said. He and his wife enjoy eating the crab meat by itself, and she also uses it in recipes, he said.

Another customer shared plans for the crab she purchased.

“We get it once a year and make crab melts and crab pizza,” Kristina Richison of Brookings said. “I get just enough for both. I heard they were in and called Leslie to put in my order.”

Wood said crab is popular for Christmas, and she’ll be cooking it on Christmas Eve and again on Dec. 26.

“But I may have some customers who want live crab on Christmas,” she said. “I’ll come down to sell it to them.”

The crab this year is full of meat, she said, and delicious. And even though she processes crab all day, she still loves to eat it. She uses crab in lots of recipes, included deviled eggs and pizza.

“I had some first thing this morning,” she said with a laugh. “Had to test it, you know.”

Most crab fishermen sell their catch to processors, but the Woods sell theirs directly to the consumer. Currently, the price is $5 per pound for live crab and $6 per pound cooked. Weights vary, but a cooked crab will typically be around 2 pounds.

Crab season lasts through August, but most of the harvest is in the first month. Sometimes late in the year they will buy from other fishermen, but Bounder’s is mostly supplied by crab from the Melissa, Wood said.

A day’s catch varies, she said, noting that it might be thousands of pounds or much less.

Other crab sellers

On Monday, Russ Burkman of Pacific Ocean Harvesters in the Port of Brookings Harbor still had Crescent City crab in his live tank, but expected to have local product at 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Burkman said he operates three boats that were “out chasing lingcod” but doesn’t have a crab permit, so he buys from local fishermen.

“I was born and raised here, and I like to support the small, local fishermen,” he said.

His crab prices ($6.50 per pound for live and $7.50 for cooked) are higher than that of Bounder’s because he has higher overhead, Burkman noted.

Also selling fresh crab direct to the consumer this year is Catalyst restaurant in the Port of Brookings Harbor. The restaurant is named after the fishing boat that supplies it with fresh locally-caught seafood.

The first of this year’s catch was available there Monday, according to owner Jessie Goergen. The price was $5.50 per pound for live crab and $6 per pound for cooked.

At Fred Meyer Monday afternoon the seafood case featured whole cooked crab for $5.99 per pound. A clerk said the crab was from Fort Bragg, California.