Early Crabbing Season: A Series of Challenges
BY LIZ MCMASTER
Dungeness season starts December 1 of each year, but the crab was still showing elevated levels of domoic acid at that time. With further tests needed to ensure that the crab was clear and ready for consumption, the season officially opened on January 1st of this year. Crabbing was further delayed due to an extended strike by fishermen who ultimately net just $2.875 per pound (dock price) compared to $3.00 per pound last year. The first pots were hauled January 10th.
The season immediately claimed its first victim, an Astoria-based vessel called the Star King. The crew of the F/V Ballad rescued all of the crew members from the water, but the Star King was a total loss.
A glut of crab at the canneries contributed to a “perfect storm” in market conditions, as well. Poor weather inland was responsible for road closures and was stalling transport, while great fishing conditions offshore were causing the boats to fill up and return to shore in record time which overwhelmed the processors. Many vessels were put on limits or delivery schedules, frustrating the operators.
Estimates of total landings to date sit at around 10 million pounds. Domoic acid concerns, along with the late start, has caused the Asian live markets to be wary of purchasing crab from the west coast. Asian consumers often eat the viscera of crab (usually thrown away prior to cooking), which is where domoic acid gathers in the crab. Domoic acid, produced by algae, accumulates in shellfish, sardines, and anchovies and is carefully monitored for the live market.
Live markets typically pay a higher price per pound and account for more than a third of Dungeness crab sold on the West Coast. This year, total live market sales are projected to be a third of past numbers.
Processor Michael Shirley of Ilwaco Landing says what made this season memorable was “Overwhelming amounts (of crab) all at the same time, with very few outlets to go to because all of the processing was backed up.” He went on to say their facilities were unable to receive bait to supply the boats, as well as being unable to deliver the crabs that were arriving in huge numbers at the dock.
The challenges of this year’s fishery are not over. As of February 3, one crab was found to have a slightly elevated level of domoic acid, resulting in a closure of a stretch of the coastline from Heceta Head south to Coos Bay.
All in all, high volumes of crab with a lower average wholesale price will mean lots of crab for sale to consumers at reasonable prices, with the majority of the early catch this year going to freezers.
From the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission website: Oregon crab fleet consists of 424 vessels. Dungeness season runs from December through August. The Dungeness crab fishery is Oregon’s largest, with the 2015-2016 season ex-vessel value of over 51 million dollars and just over 14 million pounds landed.
From the ODFW website: “The recreational harvest of razor clams is CLOSED from the Columbia River to the California border for elevated levels of domoic acid. This includes all beaches and all bays.The recreational harvest of mussels is OPEN from the Columbia River to the California border. The recreational harvest of bay clams is OPEN along the entire Oregon Coast from the Columbia River to the California border. Recreational crab harvesting from the ocean, and in bays and estuaries, is OPEN from the Columbia River to the Heceta Head. It is CLOSED from Heceta Head to Coos Bay North Jetty. The commercial crab fishery is also CLOSED in from Heceta Head to Coos Bay North Jetty.”
FurtherReading: Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission: http://oregondungeness.org/
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/