Nick Furman, who led the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission for 22 years, was “a beloved husband, father, friend and crab fishing industry trailblazer” when Oregon and the fishing industry lost a leader after a courageous battle with cancer in January 2022, according to a statement from his family.
Furman began his career in the seafood industry working as a deckhand, salmon fishing on the F/V Sea Fox for Lenny Montalbano. He also fished on the F/V Cape Foulweather for Dennis Cutting, and crabbed for Dungeness on the F/V Apache for Tom Nowlin. He finished up his fishing career running a salmon tender, the F/V Higher Ground in Alaska during the summer months.
Once off the ocean, Furman went to work for Hallmark Fisheries in sales. After leaving Hallmark, he developed and taught a fisheries program at South Western Oregon Community College for several years before being offered the job of executive director with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission in 1990.
Furman’s low-key collaborative style was welcomed in the highly competitive world of commercial fisheries. He sought out and relied upon advice from all voices in the industry, from the back deck to the wheelhouse, the processing floor to executive offices. To Furman, everyone’s opinion mattered and he demonstrated the benefits of building trust and working together for common benefit.
Thanks to his work ethic, vision, integrity, open mindedness and tenacity, the Oregon Dungeness crab industry grew from a low- value regional commodity when he started in 1990, to become the highest value seafood species harvested in Oregon today.
The list of programs he developed and implemented during his 22 years as the executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission is a unique and truly remarkable record of progress and achievement.
He conceived and presided over the first-ever state sponsored price negotiations for Dungeness crab. This process allowed Oregon boats and processors to meet together to agree on the season opening price for crab. This groundbreaking program enhanced safety for the fleet, rationalized the price discovery process and resulted in increased value for boats, processors and the coastal economy.
He recognized the importance of seafood sustainability and worked through the intensive application to secure the Marine Stewardship Council Sustainable Certification (MSC) for Oregon Dungeness crab, the first-ever crab species to gain this designation globally.
To introduce live forms of Oregon Dungeness crab to the market, he coordinated test shipments and conducted technical seminars starting in 1990. There were significant challenges in the early days, and Furman worked tirelessly to ensure seamless logistical support for commercial shipments. It wasn’t uncommon to see Furmanchecking insulated boxes of live crab samples on international flights much to the curiosity of airline check-in staff. Today, live crab is a significant high value segment of Oregon’s crab industry thanks in large part to Nick’s pioneering market development efforts.
Furman founded the groundbreaking “Seafood Oregon” promotional program which brought together joint activities with other seafood species to collaborate at trade shows and retail promotions. Nick used his artistic skills to design a range of promotional materials for all of Seafood Oregon’s marketing, many of which are still in use today.
He loved to promote in unique and creative ways. He used his considerable artistic talents to design two giant inflatable Dungeness crabs. He arranged for one of the inflatables to be mounted on top of a building at the finish line of the 100th running of the Boston Marathon in 1996. “Louie” presided over contestants and supporters along with millions of onlookers at the end of the race. “Louie” is always a draw at community events and is popular with kids, adults and photographers.
Furman was a driving force behind the designation of the Dungeness Crab as the “official state crustacean” by the Oregon Legislature. He engaged school children from West Linn, Oregon to participate in and learn about the legislative process.
He understood the importance of advocacy on behalf of the harvest and processing sectors. He was a vigorous spokesperson and trusted fisheries subject matter expert before the legislature and regulatory bodies like the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In those settings, he worked closely with decision-makers to ensure harvest sector interests were not overlooked when initiatives were under consideration, such as wave energy projects or undersea cable siting.
He advocated for the application of industry innovations such as bycatch reduction and gear innovations to enhance harvest quality and at-sea safety. He worked collaboratively to coordinate the three West Coast states’ crab harvest seasons through the Tri-State Dungeness Crab process. Furman was formally recognized by state and federal agencies with awards for his unique skills in negotiation, and serving as a trusted, invaluable voice for the industry.
Furman’s career took an 18-month detour when he was recruited to serve as the executive director of the Oregon Dairy Products Commission in Portland, Ore. There he used his considerable skills to renew the focus and efforts of the commission. He built statewide buy-in to successfully coordinate the promotional and educational efforts for Oregon’s Dairy industry. While he enjoyed broadening his promotional experience and getting to know dairy producers across the state, his heart remained with the seafood industry and he returned to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission until retiring in 2012.
He was a life-long Rotarian and understood the importance of participating and giving back to his community. He loved meeting and working with people of all types. He enjoyed volunteering at the local Food Pantry as the “Produce Manager” taking great care to organize donated fresh fruits and vegetables in the same way he would organize a display at a trade show or retail promotion. He understood the importance of human dignity and was always looking for opportunities to help the less fortunate. He kept $5 McDonalds gift cards in both vehicles to give to folks looking for a meal.
Furman was much more than a seafood and dairy industry leader. He was an avid cyclist and runner. In 2004 with his wife Kathy in the support vehicle, he rode his bicycle 4,316 miles from Coos Bay to Cape Cod to raise money for a local women’s shelter. Then in 2008 he repeated this amazing feat a second time riding from Coos Bay to Virginia with his close friend and a small group of ‘Bobbies on a Bike’ from the United Kingdom.
After he retired, he returned to his love of art. He was a talented pen and ink artist, with his favorite subjects being dogs. He was also active with his wife’s non-profit theater production group, volunteering to help with the fabrication of props and painting stage sets for local productions.
Following an eight-month battle with pancreatic cancer, Furman passed peacefully at home at age 68 in the company of his wife and two daughters, on January 6, 2022. He will be remembered for his many friendships, his humor, quick wit, integrity, and gracious demeanor.