Prices rise as Dungeness crab season delayed on US West Coast

Dungeness crab prices are rising due to a short supply from closures in California, Washington, and Oregon. 

The season on the West Coast the season could be delayed until as late as 15 January, according to Dan Ayers, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) – causing fishermen and suppliers to miss out on lucrative holiday sales. Dungeness crab fishing is currently closed in Washington, Oregon, and part of California until at least 31 December, due to a lack of meat in the shells and domoic acid levels in parts of California and Oregon, Ayers said.

“Tri-state protocol says that any area that doesn’t meet the minimum for crab meat will be delayed until 15 January. How big that area is, we don’t know,” Ayers told SeafoodSource.

Testing on 14 December showed that Washington Dungeness crab meat recovery levels were at 21.8 percent, while Oregon’s crab meat levels were at 22 percent. The minimum is 23 percent. However, shellfish managers from all three states have to agree on whether to not to extend the closure until 15 January.

“Additional testing will be scheduled to occur by December 22. If quality remains low, an additional delay until 15 January, 2018, will be issued by the director,” the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. “This date is the latest the season can be delayed due to quality testing.”

WDFW, in coordination with shellfish managers from Oregon and California, first said it was delaying the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery “to allow time for crab along the West Coast to fill with more meat.”

While recent test results indicate that Washington's coastal crab have met the minimum meat recovery level, crab in sections of the Oregon and northern California coasts have not, WDFW said in a statement.

The delay has resulted in a price spike for Dungeness, which is especially in demand throughout the holiday season. While shoppers were paying USD 5.99 to 6.99 (EUR 5.08 to 5.93) per pound on average for cooked crab meat before the closures, the price has risen to between USD 7.99 and USD 10.00 (EUR 6.78 to 8.49) per pound on average, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“It’s changing by the hour,” Angela Cincotta with Alioto-Lazio Fish Co. at Fisherman’s Wharf, told the newspaper. The wholesaler has raised its prices USD 4.00 to 5.00 (EUR 3.40 to 4.24) per pound above its original price of USD 6.00 (EUR 5.09) per pound at the start of the season.

In addition, crab from some areas in Oregon and California have tested positive for domoic acid, which has caused numerous closures of the fishery in recent years. Washington coastal crabs remain well below the public health action level for domoic acid, WDFW’s Ayers said.

"Our Oregon and California counterparts will take another look at both crab meat and toxin levels to determine which areas can open on 31 December,” Ayers said.

The fishery was valued at USD 52 million (EUR 44 million) in Washington alone for the 2016-2017 season.


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