West Coast Dungeness crabbers got off to a late start after price negotiations with major processors delayed the harvest by a few weeks. As of Aug. 25, the fleet had put in 28.15 million pounds, and better yet, average ex-vessel prices hit $4.96 per pound, according to data with PacFIN.

Crabbers in January went fishing after agreeing to a base price of $2.75 per pound.

Though the final harvest numbers and the ex-vessel values for the season will take a few months to catch up (the season closed Aug. 15), the 2021 season brought hope to a fleet after the covid-19 pandemic hobbled markets in 2020.

Last year’s catch wound up frozen and sitting in cold storage facilities as domestic outlets shut down and brought the widespread closure of restaurants and crab shacks. No-travel mandates in March also took buyers of live crab out of the picture. The live crab goes mainly to China and often fetches ex-vessel prices double of what U.S. processors can offer.

With the reverse in that regime this year, cold storage holdings have been liquidated and live buyers returned. Wholesale prices for the various crab packs have skyrocketed, which translated to this year’s ex-vessel offers more than double what they have been in recent years.

“It seems like everybody wants to eat high-end seafood again,” says Scott Adams, general manager of Hallmark Fisheries, in Charleston, Ore. “The live market took what there was, and some fishermen got as much as $10.25 per pound.”

With the relatively small harvest and cold-storage reserves depleted, retail prices to the consumer have bounded up to $50 per pound and could go even higher during peak Dungeness consumption periods between Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday.

According to data from PacFIN, this year’s harvest fell significantly below the 46.59 million pounds of 2020. At average ex-vessel prices of $3.80 the 2020 West Coast harvest added up to revenues of $178.64 million. With the average ex-vessel prices running at $4.97 per pound this year West Coast revenues hit $135.07 million.

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Charlie Ess is the North Pacific Bureau Chief for National Fisherman.

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