Landings up, prices down as California becomes first to close Dungeness crab season

A Dungeness crab.

Dungeness crab landings on the U.S. West Coast have been up thus far in the season, but prices are down and fishers in the state of California are facing an abbreviated season.

On 30 March, 2023, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham announced the 15 April closure of numerous Dungeness crab fishing zones.

“This season closure is being implemented to minimize entanglement risk for humpback whales as they return to forage off the coast of California and in response to several entanglements that occurred during March and April of 2022,” Bonham said in a press release. “Based on historical migration patterns, CDFW anticipates humpback whales will begin arriving in the coming weeks and has determined this action is needed to avoid entanglements during the same period that occurred last season.”

The closures will impact fishing zones 3, 4, 5, and 6 – an area that stretches from the coast off the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to the border with Mexico. Fishing zones 1 and 2 will remain open but will operate under an advisory they may close as whales return to the area this spring.

“The fleet has done an impressive job helping CDFW manage entanglement risk in the commercial fishery and appreciates the high level of involvement to inform the risk assessment process,” Bonham said. “We applaud the [California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear] Working Group for their dedication and continued focus on the long-term viability of the fishery that helps ensure we protect future opportunities to bring Dungeness crab to Californians and provide protection for whales and sea turtles off our coast.”

Prices are down for Dungeness crab this year amid an industry-wide downturn in premium crustacean prices. In February, Dungeness was selling for USD 15.00 (EUR 13.75) per pound for cooked crab and USD 9.00 (EUR 8.25) per pound for live crabs at H&H Fresh Fish in Sant Cruz, California, down from its typical prices of between USD 14.00 and USD 18.00 (EUR 12.83 and EUR 16.50) for live crab, while supermarkets were offering cooked crab at USD 12.00 (EUR 11.00) per pound and national corporate chains were selling live crab for USD 6.00 (EUR 5.50) per pound, according to Lookout Santa Cruz.

H&H Fresh Fish Co-Owner Hans Haveman said there has been a glut of Dungeness crab in California this year on lower demand.

“It’s great for the customer, but bad for the fishermen,” Haveman said.

Dan Obradovich, the director of business development and the Dungeness crab category manager for Clackamas, Oregon, U.S.A.-based Pacific Seafood, told SeafoodSource in November 2022 a reversal in market conditions has led to a tanking of the price of Dungeness crab. However, Pacific Seafood has been accused of artificially suppressing the price paid to fishermen for Dungeness crab, according to a March 2023 lawsuit filed by a crab fisherman in the U.S. state of California.

Fishermen in Willapa Bay, Oregon, have landed more than 1.54 million pounds of Dungeness crab thus far in 2023, setting an all-time record for the port. However, fishermen are being paid around USD 2.00 (EUR 1.83) per pound, according to the Coast River Business Journal.

“Abundance is great, but unfortunately the price paid to fishermen is pretty low,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Intergovernmental Ocean Policy Manager Heather Hall told the newspaper.

Besides the lower prices, high fuel prices and pricier bait have eaten into the profits of local fisherman Ross Kary.

“It’s been above average,” Kary said. “But with the crab price it’s still not the best year I’ve had. With the price of everything, expenses are really high. We were lucky to not go bankrupt.”

Thus far in 2023, landings in Oregon have totaled 12,375 metric tons (MT) worth USD 66.8 million (EUR 61.3 million), while Washington fishermen have caught 9,702 MT of Dungeness crab worth USD 54.8 million (EUR 50.2 million) and California fishermen have taken 8,899 MT of Dungeness crab worth USD 50.5 million (EUR 46.3 million), according to the Pacific Fisheries Information Network database.

Photo courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife


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