Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The North Coast’s commercial Dungeness crab season was affected by delays due to meat quality issues and price negotiations but the catch soared as soon as fishing began.
The season ended July 15 and the northern region from the Fort Bragg area to the Oregon border accounted for 14 million pounds of the state’s 19-million-pound total through June. The northern area accounted for $42 million of the state’s total ex-vessel (off-the-boat) landings value of $64 million.
Last year’s season saw a statewide total value of $72 million, about evenly split between the north and central regions.
This season, most of the northern area’s catch was gained in February, when delayed crabbing began.
The northern season’s Dec. 1 opening was delayed until Jan. 15, when crabs were determined to have met a 25 percent meat to total weight ratio standard.
Negotiations between fishermen and processors led to further delay but high ocean swells would have prevented the start of crabbing anyway.
Catches were robust when crabbers began pulling pots on Feb. 5, however.
Harrison Ibach, president of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association, reflected on the season.
“There were a lot of variables that went into actually getting the season going,” he said. “If someone was to write a book, they couldn’t come up with everything that we had to deal with.”
He added, “But once we ended up going, the fishing was good.”
To keep within maximum processing capacity, the area’s seafood buyers set landings limits.
“They basically tell each boat how much they are allowed to bring in to sell,” Ibach said. “So even though there was a decent biomass of crab, people were very limited.”
Crescent City was the region’s top-performing port, with its landings yielding about $22 million in total value. Eureka’s total value amounted to $13.3 million.
Trinidad’s total value was $2.5 million and Fort Bragg’s was $4.8 million.
Catch volume differences between the central and northern regions are common and tend to be cyclical.
Christy Juhasz, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist, described a pattern that was seen in past years and repeated in the season that just ended.
“As we saw with the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, those two seasons also had delays until Jan. 15 and we saw some significant landings in the north,” she said. “It’s been generally believed that the delay in the crab filling out may be due to the fact that there’s resource allocation issues – the crab population is large and that could be contributing to this late filling out of crab and then once the season opens, there are a lot more available to the industry.”
The out-of-the-gate surge in landings is common. Juhasz said 80 to 90 percent of a season’s catch is gained within its first six to eight weeks.
The central/north region variances alternate, as the central region saw record landings several years ago.
The strength of the last two Dungeness seasons is helping fishermen recover from the 2015 to 2016 season, which was drastically delayed and declared a fishery disaster.
The static mass of warm ocean water that came to be known as The Blob promoted the spread of domoic acid, a naturally-occurring toxin that curtailed the season.
A federal disaster relief payout of $25.8 million has been approved and includes relief funding for the much smaller commercial rock crab fishery. The process of dispersing the money is beginning and was outlined in a July 18 teleconference webinar between federal and state officials and the fishing industry.
Fishermen will be entitled to relief payments based on a variety of factors, potentially including their catch histories.