Though a few factors ganged up to threaten the traditional opener of the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery, the fleet of more than 400 vessels went on to put in a banner year.
“Everything that could possibly line up against us did,” said Hugh Link, executive director with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Domoic acid, that toxic villain of recent seasons past, was present in some areas. But those areas weren’t likely to see pots splashed anyway, as the crab were “light,” meaning their shells hadn’t filled with enough meat to make them favorable in the market.
But that’s not all.
“On Jan. 15, we still hadn’t settled on a price, the weather was bad, and the crab were light,” said Tim Novotny, communications manager for the commission. Novotny notes that the prices settled on Jan.
22, and the fleet left to set gear under a rule that allows crabbers to set their gear three days before the official opener. The season technically opened on Jan. 25, and fishermen began pulling their gear.
A new rule that went into effect earlier this year allows managers to issue an evisceration order when domoic acid levels exceed 30 parts per million in Dungeness crab. The order allows fishermen to continue fishing in the same area, but documents that all landed crab hits the cookers to kill the toxin. This year’s season saw the order put into place but only for about a week, said Novotny.
The problem of light crab plagued some processors, even late in the season.
“The recoveries were low,” says Scott Adams, of Hallmark Fisheries, in Charleston, Ore., adding that the percentage of actual meat to the total weight of the sections was down by about 10 percent.
Adams notes that processors from Canada reported similar conditions and that product he bought out of Alaska came in light.
Despite the hurdles, the 2018 season will go down as a record breaker. Novotny, who’s keeping tabs as final numbers roll in, said in September that revenues for the Oregon fleet neared $75 million.
“The ex-vessel value was just outstanding,” he said.
Ex-vessel averages of $3.20 per pound helped drive that value.
“It was the biggest year ever, money-wise,” echoed Adams.