December 9, 2013
For local crab fishermen, it's all about unity.
United, they can keep their boats docked and try to negotiate a higher price for their product. Divided, they will fall like dominoes, and set out on the water ready to take whatever buyers are offering.
With the season having opened a week ago, negotiations are currently at a standstill. In fact, according to some, it's hard to even call what's going on negotiations.
”The buyers have offered $2.50 (a pound), we've asked $3, and those numbers haven't changed,” said local fisherman Dave Bitts.
Meanwhile, fishermen in Oregon and Washington, where regulators postponed the season because tests showed Dungeness crab there to be too small, are readying to start fishing Dec. 15, adding a new layer of complexity to local negotiations.
Some version of this dance plays out every year, as fishermen and buyers work out a deal that sends the local fleet onto the water for a week or two of furious crab fishing. The process works like this: The Fisherman's Marketing Association negotiates on the part of the fishermen to strike a deal, which would then be put to a vote of all fishermen with a commercial crab permit in the region.
On the other side of the table sit the buyers. Because a company called Pacific Seafood handles about half the crab inventory on the West Coast, it is the sole buyer at the proverbial negotiating table. Other wholesalers simply defer to Pacific Seafood, following its lead.
Then there's a complex interworking of markets and supply.