Crab season commences over weekend

Kiet Waterman holds up some of the first crabs to be brought into Newport’s Yaquina Bay after a price dispute was resolved and the commercial Dungeness crab season got underway last weekend. (Photo by Mathew Brock)

OREGON COAST — Oregon commercial crabbers finally hit the water last weekend to kick off this year’s Dungeness crab season, nearly a month after the season was cleared to open for pre-soak on Dec. 13.

Crabbers held out three weeks for a price higher than what the largest processors initially offered this year, eventually settling with Pacific Seafood on $2.75 a pound with the added stipulation that anyone who takes the offer must deliver their first two loads to Pacific Seafood for processing. 

“We’re happy to confirm that many of the fishing vessels that we partner with have decided to start fishing,” a Monday statement from Jon Steinman, vice president of processing for Pacific Seafood, read. “Boats began setting pots over the weekend, and our team members are accepting deliveries of fresh Dungeness crab today.”

Taunnete Dixon, co-president of the Newport Fishermen’s Wives and owner of F/V Tawny-Anne, confirmed $2.75 as the offered price, but said the part of the agreement where crabbers had to “lock in” to deliver at the Pacific Seafood plant could cause trouble for some.

“Locking in for two deliveries is a pretty big impact for some of the guys,” Dixon said. “It makes it more difficult for the fishermen, many of which move on to live buyers who can offer a higher price.”

Local live seafood sellers declined to comment, some noting that with Chinese New Year around the corner on Feb. 12, it would be irresponsible to make any statements. The Chinese New Year typically brings with it a high demand for fresh seafood.

Last year, the price for crab came in at roughly $3.64 per pound across the entire season, according to a newsletter featured on the Dungeness Crab Commission’s official website.

Negotiations ran long this year partly due to the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting every part of the supply chain, from ocean to table. While fishermen held out for the highest possible price, processors repeatedly said they had to consider every link in the supply chain before making an offer, from the plants to the markets to restaurants and consumers. 

A previous statement to the News-Times from the West Coast Seafood Processors Association noted that the demand for crab has fallen roughly 70 percent this year as many restaurants remain shut down or otherwise limited across the country due to the pandemic. Pacific Seafood also previously stated processors have been facing a labor shortage and higher production costs this year due to the pandemic.

California crab price negotiations were also resolved over the weekend. The Half Moon Bay Marketing Association did not release the exact price its members will be buying for, but did state it would be significantly lower than the $3 per pound price that California crabbers were asking and instead closer to $2. There was no mention of stipulations placed on crabbers similar to those placed on the agreement between Oregon crabbers and Pacific Seafood.

A public statement from Half Moon Bay Marketing Association said the agreement was reached in order to avoid a “shotgun start” to the season.

“A shotgun start is a scenario when a price agreement and fishing beginning in another region is the equivalent of a gun going off in a race,” the statement reads. “This results in local vessels heavily loaded with gear being forced to scatter and run out to sea on as little as an hour’s notice in sometimes dangerous conditions. For 2021, this scenario has been avoided, and we hope this is a new precedent for the future.”

The Washington season remains closed until Jan. 15 due to high domoic acid levels in crabs.

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