Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 @ 4:48 p.m.
Quality Crab, High Price Make A Productive Opening to Del Norte's Dungeness Fishery
Though reticent to predict how the overall season will turn out, Del Norte County crab fishermen say its first few days have been better than last year.
After working a 2020-21 season with little to show for it, boats are actually bringing Dungeness crab to the Crescent City Harbor on time for the first time in seven years, Crescent Seafood and FV Rogue owner Kurt Hochberg told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday..
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s a better season than last year and it’s just in time for the holidays, so it’s going very very well.”
Crab fishermen between the Sonoma-Mendocino county line and the Oregon border were able to pull up their pots starting Wednesday. It’s the first time since 2014 that the season hasn’t been delayed due to quality issues, domoic acid concerns or disputes with seafood processors over price.
Sometimes our #satellites can see more than clouds! In this image of the coast from late last night, we can see the city lights of W OR and N CA. Those lights just off the coast? The fishing fleet out there working the first days of #OregonDungeness #Crab season. #orwx #cawx pic.twitter.com/HUpR3zeGbG— NWS Medford (@NWSMedford) December 2, 2021
The 2020-21 crab season began on Jan. 16, roughly six weeks later than normal, due to poor quality crab and an inability for seafood processors and fishermen to agree on a price. Fishermen were pulling up empty pots during the first few days of the season.
Most had already packed it in by June when California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham called an end to the Dungeness fishery six weeks early due to an increase of humpback whales off the California coast.
This year, though there’s not a lot of volume in the area, Del Norte County fishermen are receiving $4.75 per pound for their catch, according to Rick Shepherd, president of the Crescent City Commercial Fisherman’s Association.
“That’s the highest price anybody’s seen on this coast,” he said. “The price for crab has gotten up that high before when the volume drops down, but for a starting price at the beginning of the season, that’s the best price anybody ever seen.”
Last year, the overall volume of crab was so poor that demand for it has gone up, Shepherd said. This includes king and snow crab from Alaska, he said, adding that he can remember when the price was 68 cents per pound back in the 1970s.
“I hope it’s the new norm to where we start out with a price similar to this one,” Shepherd said. “The price of fuel’s $5 a gallon and the price of bait’s way higher, so I just think the economy, the way it is, it demands that price and we’re just hoping it doesn’t drop back down.”
Del Norte County District 4 Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen, who also owns a commercial crabbing boat, said the overall quantity of crab is better than expected, but it’s too early in the season to determine how things will go.
“We didn’t expect it to be very good, so anything was going to be a bonus,” he told the Outpost.
At Crescent Seafood, Hochberg has been selling live and cooked crab off his boat. In his commercial kitchen, Hochberg said, he’s been selling steamed crab, crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches.
The crustaceans are healthy, Hochberg said. The quality of the meat is good with a lot of fat. Anything they don’t sell live or in their cold case at the deli is being picked over and frozen for use later in the year.
Citing the closure of the Alaska king crab fishery, reducing the quota by about 80 percent, Hochberg said the Dungeness fishery on the North Coast is going to be a huge deal for processors and markets, “including Costco, Safeway and Fred Meyer.”
“This is the first time we’ve had any real production in a long time,” he said. “Not to mention overseas buyers and everything else. There’s a lot of interest.”