It’s been a banner season for Dungeness crab fishermen on the West Coast, despite a rocky start due to the presence of domoic acid and live market problems with China.

The total for all three states is close to 58 million pounds so far, for a total value of $180 million for this season. By comparison, the total for the 2015-16 season was 42 million pounds and $149 million. West Coast crabbers and processors have been able to seize a huge market opportunity and overcome obstacles during a time of high demand.

California has landed 20.2 million pounds, slightly less than Oregon, but the value is higher, at $62.7 million. During the 2015-16 season, the value for California was about two-thirds of this season, at $40 million for landings of only 12.3 million pounds.

Washington landings this season, at 17.1 million pounds, are higher than the 2015-16 season at 15.1 million pounds. However, the average price is lower, resulting in a lower value this year, at $54.9 million compared with a $57.8 value last season.


In Oregon, landings through June were around 20.3 million pounds, Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission Director Hugh Link said, and very close to the California landings. But the value — $62.2 million so far — is one for the record books. The previous record value was $51.3 million, set during the 2015-16 season.

“It was very, very good,” Link said.

But the season didn’t start that way.

“Obviously we had a challenging start, with domoic acid two years in a row,” Link said. “But now it’s on our radar.”

California’s 2015-16 season was a disaster, with most California fishermen unable to fish until May 2016 due to ongoing domoic acid levels exceeding standard levels. By the next season, 2016-17, the California industry escaped much of the domoic acid problems but Oregon crabbers had to change their strategies to adapt to open and closed areas. Washington fishermen were the most fortunate, experiencing only minimal delays.

Live market problems compounded the difficult season openings. China is the largest buyer of live crab and it repeatedly threw up roadblocks to imports of live Dungeness, first with domoic acid in California crab, then also Oregon crab, then, of all things, the presence of cadmium in West Coast crab. Yet nothing official was posted on any Chinese agency website. Canadian officials frequently were the bearers of bad news because much of the live crab had to be shipped through Vancouver, British Columbia.

NMFS Seafood Inspection Program officials in May traveled to China with the goal of establishing tangible reference points and procedures for domoic acid and cadmium in live shipments of Dungeness crab and shellfish from the West Coast. They reported to National Fisheries Institute members in a recent conference call that those standards are now normalized and live crab shipments should be accepted by China.

Oregon, like California, has formed joint management and industry groups to tackle future recommendations regarding harmful algal blooms. The first meeting in Oregon is this week.

By:  Susan Chambers

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