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.
Al - a seasoned businessman and devout crab fisherman - cofounded Local Ocean with me almost 20 years ago. Not a stranger to taking risks, he was willing to bank on me and my vision for a “local seafood market with a little deli attached”. Fifteen years, and hundreds of thousands of cups of crab soup later, I was able to buy out Al’s share of the business. But Al did not retire. This year, his 45th consecutive crab season, and he fished his biggest boat yet, the F/V Taylor Brooks.
“I’m going to try to get out about 4 am tomorrow.”, he said “I’ll get your crab and be back in by nightfall.” He and few other brave souls went out that day. I got a call from sea about 8pm that night to let me know he and our crab were on their way in but they were “getting kicked around pretty good”. I wanted some video badly, but I did not have the heart to ask. I figured he needed all his concentration to get the boat and the crew in safely. But he came by my office and surprised me the next morning. He took the videos on his own. “I don’t know how to get these off my phone, but here it is if you want it”.
The 3 S's of Sustainability
The state of Oregon uses a management strategy for Dungeness crab known as the 3 S's - Size, Sex, and Season.
Size requires that only male crabs measuring at least 6 1/4 inches across the shell are harvested.
Sex ensures that only male crabs are caught; females are released unharmed.
Season indicates that the annual commercial crabbing season starts December 1, when crab are hard-shelled, full of meat, and in their prime. The season closes on August 14, allowing them to molt their shells undisturbed. Crab are tested for fullness as well as the presence of domoic acid (a neurotoxin produced by algae that causes shellfish poisoning) prior to the start of the season. If the crab are found to have a low meat yield or potentially dangerous levels of domoic acid, the season may be delayed.
REFLECTIONS ON CRAB SEASON
Written by Laura Anderson
As we ready for crab season, I am always in awe of how that fishery demonstrates the abundance of the ocean, the generosity of nature and the gift economy. So often in the media we are inundated with stories of scarcity. “The oceans are dying”, “Fisheries are depleted” reads the headlines. While I won’t deny there are problems with some fisheries, that narrative frankly does not hold up when I look out my back door here on the Oregon Coast.
Since my grandfather started fishing the Washington coast for Dungeness crab in the 1940’s, followed by my father in the 60’s and me in the 80’s, this resource has just continued to give and give. Every year, when the season closes in late summer, it is hypothesized that fishers have harvested almost all the mature, legal-sized male crabs on our coast, leaving undersized males and females behind. Then we let the fishing grounds rest while the crabs molt and grow. And every December a couple thousand fishermen head back out to those same fishing grounds to hunt tens of millions of pounds of delicious, nutritious food for us to nourish our bodies. We have been doing this successfully for over a hundred years. It, and other fisheries like it, is one of the most incredible gifts I have been given in this life. It is my life’s work and that of the other 70 people that work at Local Ocean Seafoods, to bring this gift to you.
CREDITS: Fisheries information shared with permission from Lincoln County Historical Society. To learn more, visit Newport’s Maritime Museum