Dungeness Crab Capital of the World
Oregon Commercial crabbing began in 1889, with small boats working inland bays. By 1915, gas powered boat engines allowed fishermen to venture out to the open ocean. For the next 50 years, crab remained a minor fishery as salmon and tuna dominated the market. During this time, the city of Newport actually gave away a free crab to each visitor at its annual crab festival.
As the appetite for Dungeness crab grew, so did the number of crab fishermen. Between 1950 and 1980, the number of crab pots fished increased 20-fold. In 1995, managers capped the number of crab boats with limited entry permits. But the race for crab continued, fishermen boosted their crab pot usage. In response, managers restricted each boat to 200-500 pots.
Today, Dungeness crab accounts for about one third of the value of all Oregon commercial fisheries and is considered the economic backbone of the fleet. The season begins in December and runs through August, with 80-90% of the annual catch landing in the first two months. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
A BLAST FROM THE PAST - SWEEDE ERICKSON
“When I started fishing for Dungeness crab out of Newport in the 1930’s my electronics consisted of a $2 compass and a $1 watch. I brought with me a sounding lead and a pound of butter. The lead had a hole in its bottom, which I filled with the butter, then dropped over the side. Whatever stuck to the butter—sand, gravel, rocks—told me what the ocean floor was like, which signaled whether crabs might be there.” So mused Sweede Erickson before he passed on in the late 90’s. Those days crabs sold by the dozen - small ones for 25 cents and jumbos for 60 cents.
Sweede’s fishing buddy Gordon White mused, “I wouldn’t know what to do in a fishing boat today. Since retiring, I’m just like a boat. The hull starts getting loose, the bottom is falling out, the teeth drop out and I’ve got to go a shipyard to get hauled out.”
The Wild West
Alaskan crab fisheries have the reputation of being the deadliest, but the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery has the highest rate of fatalities, almost 2.5x more than the commercial fishing average. Oregon boats are typically smaller, cross hazardous river bars in rough winter conditions, and fish close to shore, where waves and rocks can be unpredictable. In derby style, the boats race to catch as much crab as they can, working day and night. While the fishery is heavily regulated for safety, and advances in safety technology and practice have improved, it is often up to each individual’s discretion to stay or to go. This is life on the edge.
FROM THE ARCHIVES - JANUARY 2020
Written by Laura Anderson
Last week there was a big storm. We had presold a bunch of crab for Friday’s Dockbox, but the boats were not going to get out to sea. I knew a few guys would get out, and I wanted that crab. So I called one of the bravest, most experienced crab fishermen I know- Al Pazar.