High-quality Dungeness crab hits the market
By James Wright, SeaFood Business senior editor
17 December, 2009 -
U.S. West Coast Dungeness crab landings may remain weak again this year, but crabs were of tip-top quality as the season kicked off last month.
“All the balls lined up this year,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Crab Commission in Coos Bay, Ore. “Preseason testing indicated high meat fills and a larger grade of crab. The price negotiation process worked for the fifth time in seven years, the season started in a less-chaotic fashion and the weather has been good. Crabs are in excellent shape and in a fair amount of abundance.”
Furman added that meat fills would have been sufficient for the harvest to begin by 1 November.
It’s a good thing quality is high, because West Coast landings of Dungeness have been in a steep decline for the past two years. After a haul of 88.9 pounds in 2006, Pacific Northwest catches reached only 56.9 pounds in 2007 and 49.9 pounds in 2008, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Oregon and Washington traditionally battle it out each year for the title of top harvesting state, with California pulling up the rear.
When Oregon’s fleet hit the water on 1 December, ex-vessel prices stood at USD 1.75 guaranteed for three days, as part of the annual processor-harvester negotiations. That price is 15 cents higher per pound than last season’s opener. However, average prices last season were USD 2 a pound, down from USD 2.38 during 2007-08.
A West Coast industry insider says processors were fully geared up to handle the onrush of crustaceans and that the market seemed “willing and ready” to buy Dungeness, especially supermarkets.
Big players in the Dungeness market have likely already made their moves, as the season begins just in time to meet peak holiday demand for fresh crabs. Typically, up to 80 percent of the entire harvest is landed in the first eight weeks, even though the season runs until August.
“It’s the definition of a derby fishery,” said Furman.
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