CHARLESTON -- The price of crab dropped dramatically in Charleston last week after several live-buyers who export crab to China suddenly left the Bay Area. The processing plants have stopped buying crab, leaving only such local markets as Chuck's Seafood or Fisherman's Wharf as buyers.
Fishermen say the exporters left unexpectedly when a crabbing season in Canada, near the exporters' home port, opened last week. In addition, China's policy on imports of live shellfish recently tightened, limiting the amount of crab exporters can purchase.
The sudden market shift has left some local fishermen in the lurch, as many had doubled their crabbing efforts to take advantage of the high price.
'The live market is finicky," said Nick Furman, the director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. 'That is the one thing you've got to be careful about, when you are dependent on an out-of-town, out-of-state or out-of-country buyer."
For several weeks, local fishermen had received more than $5 a pound for live crab. Last week the price plummeted to around $3.
Crabbing season off the coast of Charleston opened in December. Crab must be a certain size to be legally kept, and most of the legal crab are caught in the first six weeks of the season. Many large crab boats then switch to another fishery, but the smaller boats continue on.
Several smaller fishing boats were out collecting crab this weekend even with limited selling options.
'Everybody thinks crabbing is over, and it's not," said Charleston-based crab fisherman Jeff Reeves. Reeves brought a boatful of crab into port Friday evening only to find no buyers, he said.
Matt LeDoux, the owner of Fisherman's Wharf, said his crab tanks were full Friday, just in time for Father's Day weekend. He said he was hesitant to buy large quantities of crab when the price was high. At such high prices, customers would more easily forgo the crustacean for another type of fish.
'The biggest thing is moving them," LeDoux said. 'If the price is right and the demand goes back up, we can move quite a few crab."
Friday, the price for live crab at the Fishermen's Wharf was $5.49 a pound. Cooked was $5.99.
This week, crab fishing will enter the summer season, which means crabbers are limited to 1,200 pounds of caught crab a week, Furman said. Crab molt -- or lose their shells -- during the summer, which increases handling mortality, he said.
'The whole concept of summer harvest is designed to slow the effort down this time of year," Furman said. 'That can pull the throttle back for fishing."
Still, several boats continue bringing crab into the bay. Reeves plans to continue crabbing into the summer, he said.
'We're pretty consistent," Reeves said. 'People still want crab in the market."
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.