ILWACO — An informal Dungeness crab price strike ended this week on the Washington and Oregon coast after Newport-based crabbers decided to accept $2.75 a pound from Trident Seafoods. Columbia River-based crabbers began soaking pots at 9 a.m. Monday.
Crabbers didn’t reach a formal agreement with industry giant Pacific Seafoods after days of stalemated talks in which fishermen sought a starting price of $3 a pound for wholesale deliveries to processors. Last year’s price was $2.89 a pound.
Some Columbia crabbers said they expect a stronger price on the “live market,” which is particularly appealing to Asian shoppers getting started on Chinese New Year celebrations that culminate on Feb. 16 this year.
“These guys just settled for a price of $2.75 a pound when there’s guys in the Willapa getting $4 a pound [when it opened] last week. So why go for $2.75 when they’re getting $4? It’s the same crab,” said a crabber who gave his name as Walker. “Some will be sold over in Japan. The buyer from us will sell it for $20 a pound. At their marketplaces, they like to see everything they eat alive and it will be $50 a pound.”
Many in the fleet are worried about rough ocean conditions forecast this week. Pots will be hauled up Thursday morning, with the National Weather Service in Portland currently predicting a west swell of 19 feet at 10 second intervals and 5-foot wind waves. Crabbers go out in worse conditions, but new deckhands may be particularly at risk in these conditions just offshore from the Long Beach Peninsula.
Preliminary hauls early this week found many good-looking legal-size crab in pots. But if weather interferes with the harvest, these crab could die or pots could be lost.
“The weather is supposed to get bad; this is a small window of opportunity to everybody to get out,” Ilwaco skipper Brian Cables said Monday about deciding to drop pots on a relatively calm day.
“I have mad respect for crabbing guys — it’s hard labor,” said deckhand Patrick Gore. Gore planned to help drop 150 pots, aboard the F/V Pacific Dream, but said he has no intention of making crabbing a career.
“This is it for me. I’m not a crab fishermen. I’m getting on some tug boats,” Gore said. “With fishing you make it big or you break it bad. It’s too risky and I can’t handle that kind of stress.”
The Pacific Northwest crab fishery is considered by many to be among the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., with lives lost during many seasons and a record of sometimes-disabling physical injuries.