The boat owners are seeking a guarantee of $2.50 a pound, but major seafood processors have offered only $2 a pound, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
No negotiations are scheduled, making quick settlement appear unlikely with the approach of Thanksgiving, when fresh Dungeness crab is a favorite ingredient in pre-turkey salads.
Such disputes often happen in San Francisco but they're usually settled before the commercial crabbing season begins, the Chronicle says, but this year no commercial boats had headed out four days into the season.
"We already raised our offer by 25 cents a pound. This kind of thing has been going on for at least 10 years, so it's almost like a soap opera," said Joe Cincotta, general manager of Pacific Seafood, a major distributor.
But with rising costs, fishermen say they need at least $2.50 a pound.
"When I started back in 1988, we got $2.25 a pound for crab," said Larry Collins, president of the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. "And with the cost of gear and bait rising every year, we can't settle for less than the $2.50 we need."
Collins said 35 to 40 crab boats are idle at each of the three main Bay Area crab ports -- San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay.