First crab just ‘beautiful’

Crabbers unload their catch. (Photo by Shelby Wolfe)

NEWPORT — Yaquina Bay has been all but empty of crab boats the past several days as fishermen worked the grounds off the central coast and beyond to bring the first loads of Dungeness crab back to the docks.

The boats that did come into port unloaded quickly and returned to the water to take advantage of breaks between storms as the rush of the fishing derby got fully underway following a month-long delay.

It’s busy times for seafood buyer Bret Hamrick, owner of Seawater Seafood Company. Hamrick had idling trucks preparing to rush crab offloaded from the Newport Fishing Vessel Deacon to markets in Los Angeles and Canada.

“We’ll pull probably 50,000 pounds today into the live market,” Hamrick said. “Yesterday was 40,000.”

The season normal starts Dec. 1 but was delayed to assure that all of the crab along the coast had solid meat content.

“The crab are in really good shape,” said Hamrick, who was paying $3.25 a pound to the boats.

But crabbers have had to claw for whatever early returns they are seeing. The harvest opened last Friday with a heavy storm that left its marks on some vessels. Fishermen were forced to contend with 25-foot seas and gusts to 65 mph as they waited to run their pots. Since then a series of fronts have gone through, kicking up the seas sporadically, then mellowing out again long enough to give the boats a chance to run some of their gear.

On Tuesday, boats began to file back into the harbor ahead of building winds predicted to peak around 45 mph with 20-foot seas on Wednesday.

The hard-won crustacean is now showing up in area seafood markets. At Local Ocean Seafoods on Newport’s bayfront, the crab has been part culinary delight, part theater and soon will be an educational experience as the restaurant fires up its cooker right on the street and plans events that will include a crab feast, dock walk and education on how the crabbers ply their trade.

“I love that smell. The first crab of the season is real sweet,” said Amber Morris, a Local Ocean manager who saw the first load of “beautiful crab” arrive last Saturday.

Whole cooked crab is on sale at the restaurant and seafood market for $6.95 a pound.

Local Ocean will hold a dock walk and crab demonstration January 19th and 27th beginning at 10:30 am.

“We will demo live crab cooking out front of the restaurant,” kitchen manager Tony Bixler said. “While the crab is cooking, Local Ocean owner Laura Anderson will take guests along the docks to teach them about the Dungeness season and how vital it is to our history and economy here in Newport. On return to the restaurant, we’ll have a shucking demo, where we will show guests how to quickly and easily get the meat out of the shells. Then we’ll feast!”

Advance tickets are required, Bixler said, and seating is limited.

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