Though rough seas kept some boats at the dock, many commercial Dungeness crab fishermen began pulling gear and delivering crab to processors over the weekend.
Oregon and Washington state fishermen set gear over the New Year’s holiday under blue skies, but then faced stormy weather leading up to the official opening of the fishery on Friday.
The fishery was closed in Oregon south of Cape Arago due to elevated levels of the marine toxin domoic acid, but could open this week pending the result of additional tests.
Despite an ongoing federal government shutdown, the Coast Guard continues to monitor the fleet. Rescue crews responded to two commercial boats in distress before fishermen even began pulling gear. One boat they rescued had lost its rudder 17 miles off the Columbia River entrance.
Industry leaders settled on a price of $2.75 per pound to get the fleet on the water, said Rex Leach, a fisherman based out of Charleston and Coos Bay, who has been involved in price negotiations for many years. It’s a dime less than the opening price last year, but up from a starting offer of around $2.30.
“And then we’ll let market forces take over,” Leach said.
The price per pound typically starts to go up a week or so after the fishery opens. In recent years, though, fishermen have not seen this early jump. Still, prices later in the season have come in higher than at the beginning.
Industry leaders have also wondered what the tariff war with China could mean for the sale of live crab to that country. Trade negotiations are ongoing, but the live crab market to China is particularly lucrative for the West Coast crabbing industry. The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission reports China has bought 40 percent of Oregon’s crab catch in previous years.
“It’s a big one,” said Tim Novotny, a spokesman for the commission.
“We haven’t been impacted by the tariffs yet,” but the news certainly made “everyone’s ears perk up,” he said.
For now, buyers are still gearing up to receive live crab and fishermen expect to get about 50 to 60 cents more over the base per pound price.
The fishery brought in a $74 million ex-vessel value last season after the start was delayed due to a combination of low meat yield, contentious price negotiations and bad weather.
Commercial fishermen landed 23.1 million pounds into Oregon and 12.4 million pounds into Washington state last season.