Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – After waiting through a series of delays, the North Coast’s commercial Dungeness crab fishermen soaked their pots last weekend and started pulling them. A $2.75 per pound ex-vessel or off-the-boat starting price was negotiated between fishermen and processors in Oregon. Crabbers in Oregon and Washington began fishing on Jan. 22.
But processors in Humboldt County/Crescent City area wanted to wait to allow crabs to increase their meat mass.
The season would have started on Dec. 1 had crabs shown a meat-shell ratio of 25 percent. Tests in early November showed crabs were far below the standard and subsequent results were also disappointing.
After a series of delayed openings due to the meat quality issue, the season was set to start on Jan. 15. That’s the latest date the season can be delayed to.
Crabbing vessels remained docked, however. High ocean swells made fishing too risky and processors wanted to test crabs to get an idea of what kind of meat quality they’ll be getting.
The tests showed that on average, sampled crabs were close to the 25 percent meat standard. As of press time on Feb. 5, Humboldt and Crescent City crabbers were set to start pulling their traps. Harrison Ibach, the president of the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association said area fishermen are eager to start working.
“It’s extremely strenuous for all fishermen to not be working for this long,” he
continued. “Any individual can relate to by thinking of how it would be for themselves to not have paychecks coming in over that extended period – it’s pretty brutal.”
This year’s season delay is minimal compared to the one crabbers dealt with two years ago, when the season was delayed by several months due to the presence of domoic acid.
After a severely limited salmon season, fishermen are counting on this year’s Dungeness fishing and were docked during the Christmas period when the domestic market peaks.
Another season milestone is imminent, however – the Chinese New Year on Feb. 15, which drives what Ibach described as a “very strong” market for exports of live crab to Asia.
Area processors will also be buying to supply the cooked crab market.
“Everyone is excited and very much looking forward to finally getting going,” Ibach said. “There seems to be pretty decent morale from what I’ve seen.”
Consumers have also been waiting. “There has been some crab on the market that has come from Oregon but we’ll finally be seeing nice, fresh local crab in the local markets,” said Ibach.
He noted that the last area of the West Coast that remained closed to crabbing – from the Port Orford, Oregon area to the California border – has tested clear of domoic acid.
With that, commercial fishermen throughout the entire West Coast are actively crabbing.
The agreed-upon $2.75 per pound price less than last year’s price of $2.87 but it’s only a starting price. And Ibach said there’s already been price increases for the crab from Oregon and Washington, with $3.25 to $3.50 per pound being paid for crab going to the live market.