Close to 1,200 boats from Bodega Bay, Calif. to Westport remain in their respective ports since Pacific Choice Seafood in Eureka, Calif., a subsidiary of industry conglomerate Pacific Seafood Group, reduced its buying price from a pre-season agreed $3 per pound to $2.75 per pound on Dec. 26. The $3 price has been paid to fishers out of the San Francisco area since Nov. 15.
Lowering the price for crabs was scheduled to take place at the opening of District 7 — Point Arena to Humboldt Bay — on California’s Northern Coast. Fishermen there reacted by tying up their boats. Word quickly spread up and down the West Coast and boats are remaining in port.
Pacific Seafood Group owns and operates more than 38 processing and distribution facilities from Alaska to Texas, including nine in Oregon, four in California, and another nine in Washington state. Grays Harbor and Pacific County properties include Washington Crab in Westport and Coast Seafoods in South Bend.
Since the West Coast Dungeness crab season opens in stages from south to north, state fishers out of Westport and Tokeland from Willapa Bay and Klipsan Beach on the Long Beach Peninsula south to Cape Blanco on the southern Oregon coast are the first in Washinton state to be affected by the strike. The state coastal commercial Dungeness crab fishery between Klipsan Beach and Cape Blanco opened on Jan. 1. The state fishery between Klipsan Beach and the Queets River will open at 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7.
The state crab fishery from Destruction Island to the Canadian border won’t open until after Jan. 15, with that start date expected to be announced this week.
The commercial season was already delayed on the Northern California, Oregon and Washington coasts due to the presence of domoic acid, a naturally occurring neurotoxin in Dungeness crabs. In Washington state, that meant a season that normally starts on Dec. 1 was delayed a full month until Jan. 1 this year. That delay makes a strong per pound vessel price for crab all the more important to fishers, who are hoping for a comeback season.
According to a Jan. 2 press release from the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association, “While no one can predict the outcome for the ongoing effort by fishermen to regain the original $3 price per pound for fresh West Coast Dungeness crab, a number of things have taken place as a direct result of Pacific (Seafood) Group’s action. Fishermen, crews, fish company workers, truck drivers and specialty seafood buyers and exporters have all been relieved of their jobs related to the Dungeness crab fishery over the New Year’s holidays.
“More importantly, the public, our customers and supporters have been denied fresh Dungeness crab, a traditional holiday fare on the West Coast.
“Fishermen and their families are very concerned that if successful, Pacific Group’s ex-vessel price reduction attempt will depress prices to fishermen for years to come.”