Health warnings, high prices on crab may result in changes for some fundraiser dinners
By Lou Fancher
Don't trash your bibs or toss the butter.
Despite California Department of Public Health advisories to avoid consuming California Dungeness crab, the annual crab feed fundraising season is gearing up for action.
Of course, this doesn't mean that high school booster groups, Knights of Columbus and Kiwanis clubs, church congregations and other organizations that rely on the annual feeds to support charitable or nonprofit causes are throwing caution to the wind or putting people's lives at risk. Instead, sponsors are keeping close watch on reports of persistently high levels of domoic acid in Dungeness crab and rock crab caught along the California coastline. The naturally occurring toxin has bloomed in warm coastal waters and led to restrictions on fishing, serving and consuming crab. Domoic acid poisoning can result in anything from vomiting and dizziness to seizures, permanent loss of short-term memory, coma and death.
Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover said on Friday he wouldn't settle for the frozen variety, confirming that his Jan. 16 dinner would feature "high-quality tri-tip" and chicken instead.
Ed Diokno, Glover's Deputy Chief of Staff, says the cost of fresh crab this year makes profit margns slim.
"It was around $4 a pound last year, and they were talking about $7 a pound this year," Diokno says.
Even so, it's not easy to give up the seasonal tradition and its connection to an Italian heritage that he says "is big in our area and means crab is a delicacy and something everyone latches onto."
But Chrissie Bonavito, president of Pioneer Elementary School in Brentwood's parents club, says their third annual crab feed may actually have gained a few supporters by going crab-less.
"For the two people I've heard from who say they aren't coming, I found 12 others who thanked us for changing the menu.
"Some people are allergic -- I am, and would never attend a crab feed, had I not been organizing one."
Like Glover's event, which Diokno says is primarily aimed at supporting Glover's campaigns and provides an opportunity for friends to gather, Bonavito says the food isn't the main focus. "It's the biggest fundraiser we do.
"We make up to $12,000. We'll use the funds to upgrade technology at the school."
Over at the Byron Delta, Brentwood and Discovery Bay Lions Club, President David Ciruli says the plan is to go ahead with the crab feed.
With a Feb. 27 date, planners of the event that typically sells out at 450 guests are hoping there'll be fresh crab, but will go with frozen crab most likely shipped from Alaska if the cautionary advisory is still in place.
"It's hard to predict what the price will be, but we know it will be up. We've had to raise our ticket price $10 per person.
"By that time, we figure people will really be wanting crab."
Dana Boyer, coordinator of the Deer Valley High School Band Boosters fundraiser Jan. 30 at Antioch Community Center, regularly checks in with their crab supplier.
"If the toxicity problem doesn't clear out, we will do tri-tip and chicken or shrimp. If the crab is OK and too expensive, we'll have to seriously rethink crab because it's a fundraiser."
The DVHS organizers get their tri-tip at Brentwood Fine meats.
Glover says a local butcher will "pick up that business" lost to crab suppliers and Bonavito says a local distributor will be used to purchase fresh tri-tip and peel-and-eat shrimp served to the Pioneer club's expected 200 guests.
Which all goes to the point that despite the losses -- and they're major to businesses reliant on the seasonal crop -- there is a silver lining.
For beef and poultry suppliers and people who aren't fond of crustaceans, "cow and chicken feeds" are most welcome.