SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — The commercial Dungeness crab season finally kicked off Sunday and, while local fishermen have been waiting to get back out to sea, this year’s season opener is not for the faint of heart.

Crabbers had high hopes for this season — mild fall weather and plenty of crab. But there were so many whales in the fishing grounds that — to prevent entanglements — the season was delayed until Sunday, Dec. 15.

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“The whales have finally gone,” said Brand Little, who owns a crab boat berthed in San Francisco. “Unfortunately, when the whales leave, they leave because the weather gets rough and now we’re here setting gear in some pretty hazardous conditions.”

Commercial crab boats were allowed to begin setting their pots Saturday at midnight but Capt. Little held back his crew for several hours because the weather 18 miles offshore was so rough. When they finally did go out, Little said conditions were so rough he feared for his own life.

“Yeah, I’ve been afraid a few times,” he said, “Yesterday was one of those times where I did not want to be out there.”

It’s especially dangerous to the smaller crab-fishing boats that dock in San Francisco. They’re much more affected by high winds and weather than the huge factory boats that show up when the pickings are good.

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“It’ll cost me $40,000 or $50,000 not to get my gear out in the first couple days and it costs the crew $10,000,” Little said. “You know it’s dangerous, you know you shouldn’t go but, eventually, you know you have to.”

At Fisherman’s Wharf, diners enjoy the pleasure of eating Dungeness crab, perhaps having no idea the extreme risks some are taking to bring it to them.

“It’s nuts, like, I can’t imagine doing that job,” said Lisa Magladry, visiting from Redding. “I do get what it take … to a degree and I could never do it,” she added.

“Honestly, we never care about them and we should,” said Ryan Cheung, a tourist from Hong Kong.

Capt. Little says there’s a reason there is such pressure to get pots out quickly. Despite a seven-month season, 80 percent of the crab is caught in the first ten days. Waiting even a short time can mean the difference between profit and loss.

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But there can be a high price to pay for that. Little says he has already lost three friends this year to the perils of the sea.