Dungeness crab fishermen in California are delaying the start of their season in protest of low prices offered by processors. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has expanded the state's coast for commercial Dungeness crab fishing, with limited fishing set to open on January 18 in zones 3 through 6, spanning from the Sonoma-Mendocino county line to the U.S.-Mexico border. Fishermen in these zones will face a 50 percent trap reduction rule to minimize entanglement risks for humpback whales, whose presence caused two previous delays in the season.
In response to the challenging conditions faced by California's commercial fishing industry, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham stated on January 11, "Today’s action in the Central Management Area strikes a balance. It protects whales and turtles and allows our hardworking commercial fishing fleet to provide fresh, sustainable crab to California residents."
Negotiations between the industry and CDFW successfully reduced the trap reduction rule from the initially proposed 70 percent, citing a low number of whales off the coast.
Further north, commercial Dungeness crab fishing from Cape Falcon, Oregon, to Klipsan Beach, Washington, is scheduled to commence on February 1. Delays in this area were attributed to substandard meat fill discovered during testing, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will announce details for the area north of Klipsan Beach at a later date.
Despite the green light to start fishing, some California fishermen are holding out for higher prices. Jake McMaster, captain of the Eureka-based Captain Banjo, expressed dissatisfaction with the offered price of USD 3 (EUR 2.74) per pound, countering with USD 3.50 (EUR 3.20) on January 1, which remains unanswered.
While the current processor-offered price is higher than last season, fishermen in Oregon are reportedly receiving over USD 3.50 per pound. Fishermen believe that setting a lower initial price allows processors to maintain profitability as the season progresses.
Reports suggest that Pacific Seafood, a major player in the Dungeness crab market, is setting local prices lower than other areas on the U.S. West Coast. Fishermen are also concerned about a clause in Pacific Seafood's offer that allows it to lower the per-pound rate later in the season if market conditions worsen. Jenna Lee's Seafood, based in Eureka, announced on Facebook that it joined the strike in solidarity with local fishermen, emphasizing the need for a fair base price.
Pacific Seafood declined to comment on the issue, directing inquiries to the West Coast Seafood Processors Association. Executive Director Lori Steele stated that the association does not engage in price negotiations or comment on specific situations between fishermen and processors.
Several local fishermen, speaking anonymously, believe the low price strategy is an attempt by large seafood-processing companies to force small boats out of business, acquire permits at a discount, and then utilize corporate fleets for fishing.
Pacific Seafood is currently facing a lawsuit for alleged anti-competitive behavior in the U.S. West Coast Dungeness crab market, which they have moved to dismiss as "completely baseless."
Source: Cliff White (January 15, 2024). California Dungeness crab fishermen strike for better prices as season opens. Seafood Source. https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/supply-trade/california-dungeness-crab-fishermen-striking-for-better-prices-as-season-opens