Frozen stocks of Dungeness crab down before peak US sales time

Published on
October 7, 2021
Dungeness crabbers on the U.S. West Coast are celebrating a bounce-back season.

Dungeness crabbers on the U.S. West Coast are celebrating a bounce-back season.

The season got off to a late start after price negotiations with major processors delayed the harvest by a few weeks. As of 25 August, the fleet had put in 28.15 million pounds and average ex-vessel prices hit USD 4.96 (EUR 4.29) per pound, according to data with PacFIN.

Crabbers in January went fishing after agreeing to a base price of USD 2.75 (EUR 2.38) per pound. Though the final harvest numbers and the ex-vessel values for the season will take a few months to catch up, as the season closed 15 August, the 2021 season was a more positive one after the COVID-19 pandemic hobbled markets in 2020. Last year’s catch wound up frozen and sitting in cold storage facilities as domestic outlets shut down due to COVID-19-related safety precautions. No-travel mandates in March also took buyers of live crab out of the picture. The live crab goes mainly to China and often fetches ex-vessel prices double of what U.S. processors can offer.

But this year, cold storage holdings have been liquidated and live buyers have returned, according to Scott Adams, the general manager of Charleston, Oregon-based Hallmark Fisheries. Wholesale prices for the various crab packs have skyrocketed, which translated to this year’s ex-vessel offers more than double what they have been in recent years, he said.

“It seems like everybody wants to eat high-end seafood again,” Adams said. “The live market took what there was, and some fishermen got as much as USD 10.25 [EUR 8.87] per pound.”

With the relatively small harvest and cold-storage reserves depleted, retail prices to the consumer have bounded up to USD 50.00 (EUR 43.29) per pound and could go even higher during peak Dungeness consumption periods between Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday.

According to data from PacFIN, this year’s harvest fell significantly below the 46.59 million pounds of 2020. At average ex-vessel prices of USD 3.80 (EUR 3.29), the 2020 West Coast harvest added up to revenues of USD 178.6 million (EUR 154.1 million). With the average ex-vessel prices running at USD 4.97 (EUR 4.30) per pound this year, West Coast revenues hit USD 135.1 million (EUR 117 million).

Reporting by Charlie Ess

Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

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