Dungeness crab, reportedly named after a small fishing
village on the Straight of Juan de Fuca in Washington
State, have been harvested commercially along the Pacific
coast since the late 1800's. They range from central
California to the Gulf of Alaska, and have long been part
of the Northwest's seafood heritage.
Dungeness are caught in circular steel traps commonly
called 'pots'. Weighing anywhere from 60
to 125 lbs and measuring 36” to 48” in diameter,
each pot has a length of line and a buoy attached to
mark its position for retrieval. The pots are baited
with squid or razor clams to attract the bottom-dwelling
crabs, and set on the ocean floor following the contour
of the adjacent coastline. They are allowed to 'soak'
for a one to four-day period, depending on the fishing
conditions, weather and time of year. The average boat
fishes 300-500 pots in depths of 5-100 fathoms (30 to
600 feet) of water. After being brought to the surface
by a hydraulic power-block, the crabs are sorted and
kept alive on-board the vessel in circulated seawater until they are delivered
to shore-side processing plants.
Only mature male crabs measuring 6 ¼”
across the shell are harvested. Juvenile males and all
females are returned to the sea to insure healthy
stocks for future harvests.
The ocean crab season along the Oregon
coast begins on December 1 and continues through August 14. The
peak harvest occurs during the first eight weeks of the season
with up to 75% of the annual production landed during this
period. Effort traditionally decreases in the spring as fishermen
gear up for other coastal fisheries, but fresh crab continues
to be available throughout the summer months thanks to a small
number of boats that fish right up to the closure in August.
Oregon imposed a 'limited entry' system
on the crab fishery in 1996, with approximately 450
permits issued based on prior participation. There are
in excess of 350 vessels presently engaged in the crab
fishery. They range from the small wooden troller with
its two-man crew to large steel combination vessels
with a four-man crew capable of fishing around the clock
for extended periods of time.
Dungeness crab landings are naturally cyclical. Oregon's
harvest has fluctuated from a low of 3.2 million lbs
to a high of over 33 million lbs in recent years. Average
annual landings in Oregon are in the neighborhood of
10.3 million pounds. Total production for the entire region
(California to Alaska) averages 42.5 million lbs annually.
The 'ex-vessel' value of Oregon's Dungeness crab
fishery fluctuates yearly, based on the size of the harvest and prevailing market conditions.
In the most recent 10-year period, the 'to-the-boat' value ranged from
$5 million to $44 million dollars. The Dungeness crab fishery is the most valuable 'single-species' fishery in Oregon.
Most of Oregon’s coastal seafood processors purchase and process Dungeness
crab during the course of the season. Some larger companies
produce a wide variety of market forms, are capable
of volume orders and maintain frozen inventories for year-around
sales. Other smaller companies specialize in specific
market forms and target market niches. Many ship 'direct'
to out-of-state customers.