Photo by Hasain Rasheed
A couple of local entrepreneurs have just completed an experiment in seafood sustainability - and are celebrating their success.
According to Hasain Rasheed and Will Ward, most Bay Area crab is harvested by large companies that pull hundreds of crabs out of the ocean in two-to-three day runs. By the time the crab arrives at the pier, it's often frozen and then shipped nationwide.
The two Oakland men decided to try a different approach.
The two harvested dungeness crab in daily runs - collecting in the mornings and delivering directly to restaurants and farmer's markets that same afternoon. Their method required no freezing and provided dungeness connoisseurs with a truly fresh catch. Their company, Carapace Fishery, showed that there is a market for small scale, locally harvested and delivered seafood.
Carapace is the hard upper shell of a crab. It's also the key to sustainability of West Coast Dungeness Crab populations.
In order to harvest local crab, both small and large fishers must purchase one of a limited number of permits. The permits require crabbers to keep only male crab with a specific carapace size. This way both female and young crabs are left to continue growing and breeding, making crab consumption a sustainable seafood.
Basically it comes down to season, sex and size.
"When they have molted and the shells are hard, the crab season begins. You can only harvest male crabs with a 6 1/4 shell width carapace," Ward said. This guarantees that young and female crabs are still present - to repopulate the ocean floor when the season is done.
Seafood sustainability isn't just about preventing over-harvesting. For Ward and Rasheed, it's also about how they conduct business.
"A couple of things set us apart," Rasheed said. "We leave no gear behind. We fish local and serve the local community via Facebook and Twitter."
"Given the scale of this, we're able to provide the freshest live crab available, period," he said. "We go straight from water to dock in less than a half day. Everything we sell has been caught that day."
In a merging of old and new fishing techniques, the men even use an iPad application to track where the crabs come from.
The business has proven to be successful for them. Their crabs have been served up at many local restaurants including Blue Oak Cafe at the Oakland Museum of CA, Farmer Browns, Flora, Pizza Aoila, Boot N' Shoe and Trattoria on College Avenue.
"The restaurants we sell to have been amazed at how lively the crab is ... feisty!" Ward said. When their equipment went down for a couple of days, he said one restaurant even said, "We're going to take it off the menu until you're back."
In addition to the restaurant service, Ward's wife also has been selling fresh crabs at local Farmer's Markets in South Berkeley, Fremont, Union City and Old Oakland. And through it all, the two men keep an eye on the bay they grew up on.
"We are very conscious to bring back as many pots as we bring out," Ward said. "Lost gear is an ecological issue."
Ward and Rasheed both fished in their youth and were interested in commercial fishing as a way to bring a little extra money to the family budget. (Coincidentally, the two friends have one daughter each - born within weeks of each other.) They also were inspired by the waters of the Bay Area themselves.
But while the official crab season continues, Carapace Fishery is wrapping up its harvesting.
"There's still crab out there, but the effort and resources required increases as the season goes on," Ward explained.
Rasheed said they've learned a lot from this year's work.
"We'll spend a lot more time on the water the first couple of weeks. We are looking forward to getting the jetty back out there," he said. "It's a lot of cold days and frozen fingers, but we've been lucky to have no rain."
"The first year was all about learning the process - catch, sell, what restaurants want, how the boat works with all the gear and how to communicate together," Ward added.
Both men agree that the process has been rewarding.
"This year was the first year," Ward said. "We're looking forward to next season with a great deal of confidence that we have a great quality product."
"The future looks great. It's been a huge learning experience," Rasheed chimed in. "Next year we'll be able to serve more customers."
For More Information