ASTORIA — Turn the clock back to early December of last year for the North Coast Dungeness crab fleet and the picture was pretty bleak.
First, it was the crab — they weren’t consistently full of meat, all up and down the coast — and so crab fishermen waited an extra two weeks to start the season.
And then, once the season got started, unforgiving storms rolled in through the rest of December.
For John Corbin of the Astoria Crab Marketing Association, and many Oregon crabbers, the outlook for the 2010-11 crab season wasn’t bright.
“At first, I was like, ‘Whoa, this isn’t good,’” he recalled.
They got pummeled by 65-mile-per-hour winds and were plagued by rain in the season’s first few days. Corbin’s own first picks — the initial pots pulled up by North Coast crabbers — were disappointingly light. Others were having similar experiences, he said.
But, before long, things shifted. Weather improved, and pots came up fuller.
“It just started getting better and better,” Corbin said. In landings and value, this season will probably end up being very close to the last one, he added.
It’s been a profitable season for Crab fishermen throughout Oregon, said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. Even with a few months to go, the numbers so far are impressive.
Nearing the record
As of Monday, Oregon crabbers have landed about 20.3 million pounds of the state crustacean, quickly approaching last season’s record total of 23.2 million pounds.
Even better news is this season’s ex-vessel value — at $45.1 million it has already eclipsed least year’s $44.8 million total, Furman said. The season doesn’t end until mid-August, though at this time of year volume coming in has slowed to a trickle.
Astoria-area processors have accepted close to 4.1 million pounds of crab, the third largest count of the Oregon ports. This year, Newport was at the top with more than 7.3 million pounds and Charleston wasn’t far behind with 5.1 million pounds.
Astoria has had its turn on top, but this year the crab seemed to be more plentiful on the southern Oregon Coast, Corbin said.
The average price fishermen have been getting at the docks this season has been $2.20 per pound, up 27 cents from last year. That’s money in the bank for fishermen, considering that everything they have to buy — from fuel to bait to equipment — has become more expensive.
Andrew Bornstein, of local processor Bornstein Seafoods, said exports are growing for his company, but wouldn’t share many specifics.
“China is strong. We’ve noticed their presence,” Bornstein said.
Bornstein accepts crab from between 20 to 25 local boats each season, directly to its facility in Warrenton, and loads can range from 100,000 pounds early in the season to a few thousand from smaller boats. Historically, Bornstein has sold most of its products all up and down the Interstate-5 corridor, but the appeal of crab is definitely on the rise, Bornstein said.
This time, several factors contributed to the “high volume, high price scenario” he’s seeing.
“It’s a combination of a ton of different things,” Bornstein said. Along with Dungeness’ global appeal, the high price of food and fuel have also contributed, he added.
“When fuel is this high, these guys need a good price.”
The St. Jude, a commercial fishing boat owned by Jeremy Olson, motors through the Warrenton Marina on the Skipanon River to deliver the day's catch of crab to the Warrenton Deep Sea Market in Warrenton.