CHARLESTON — In the middle of a parking lot on the Charleston Marina a large square of crab pots sits six pots high and 12 wide. Fisheries and fishermen alike are geared up for the commercial crabbing season that has been pushed back to Jan. 15
The season, which normally starts on Dec. 1, was pushed back because crabs caught for testing didn’t have full shells of meat.
“People look forward to having crab on New Year’s and Christmas, and we missed all of that … without crab by the first of the year what will happen is there will be a lot of crab coming in here in two weeks and we’ll have to buy it with the thought in mind that it has to go in the freezer,” Hallmark Fisheries Plant Manager Scott Adams said.
Commercial Dungeness crab is Oregon’s most valuable fishery. Last year’s delays didn’t seem to hurt the crabbing industry’s bottom line, as a record high value of $62.7 million worth of crab was caught last season. Fishermen landed 20.4 million pounds of crab last year.
“There’s a lot of people crying this year because they can’t get fresh crab, and they can’t even get much frozen crab,” Adams said.
Fishermen have spent the last month without any income and will spend at least two more weeks without pay because of closures. Adams said that the local economy is really where the crabbing closure hits hardest.
“All these guys count on this crab. It’s a huge thing. I employ 150 people during crab season and I can’t do that right now,” Adams said.
The huge influx of crab when the season begins will flood the market and force companies like Hallmark to hold on to the product by freezing it instead of selling live crab.
“What’ll happen is I’ll have to hire a bunch of people and put more money into the frozen. It’s not like buying a crab, cooking a crab, putting it in a box, and shipping it out. The freezing process is pretty labor intensive and it costs,” Adams said.
Unlike past crabbing closures, many people in the industry are supportive of the closure, because it isn’t advantageous for them to sell crabs that are light on meat.
“It doesn’t do me any good to buy light crabs. As soon as I buy a crab I lose money because of water weight. Let’s say I lose three percent when I buy it. Then I cook it and lose ten percent in the cook. By the time I get the crab in the box I’ve lost 15 percent of the original price. Buying a light crab just makes us have to account for more losses,” Adams said.
It is uncertain how delays might change the price per pound this season. According to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission the first negotiations to set the price for Dungeness crab will begin on Jan. 8.