When nightfall sets and you look out into the Pacific you can still see the boat lights of our fishing fleet pulling in the Oregon’s favorite native crustacean, Dungeness Crab. While the initial Dungy rush may be subsiding… the season continues. Our famous crab is delicious to eat and it’s also a unique character in the bigger picture of local economics and marine issues that come into play.
Local Ocean Seafood’s Laura Anderson has her finger on the pulse of what this valuable fishery means to Lincoln County. Laura A is third generation fisherman, has a Master’s in Marine Resource Management and runs a successful restaurant where the majority of seafood comes from local harvesting.
Several years ago I spent some time filming and photographing the crew on Al Pazzar’s Delma Ann. Enjoy the photographs from the great experience I had with the crew here in this post – Captain Al, Tony and Claude.
The following was written in the December 2011 Local Ocean Seafood’s News Letter by Laura Anderson.
Much data has been collected on Oregon’s nearshore to inform ocean zoning. One such effort was just completed by our good friends at Ecotrust, (you know, the Salmon Nation people). In their Shoreside Economic Analysis for the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan Report, Ecotrust looked at the contributions made to Oregon’s economy from marine resources: most notably commercial fisheries, and most notably among those, Dungeness crab. Turns out, of the $100 million dollars or so that come into Oregon’s ports each year from seafood landings, about $40 million is from our fabulous state crustacean: the humble Dungy crab.
Economics of an average crab fishermen (as if there were such a being)
Seems as though if you are a fisherman at all in Oregon, there’s a fairly good chance that you are, at some point in the year, a crab fisherman (and NOW would be that time of year). You’ve probably been crabbing, on average, for about 24 years, and chances are the 69 or so days a year you are fishing for crab brings you about two-thirds of your annual income.
So what happens to that $40 million paid to boat owners for their catch? The boat is going to distribute about 28% to the crew (who are no doubt going to re-spend that money on new tires for trucks, cocktails at the local watering hole, a new pair of Grundéns raingear and hopefully a college education for their kids). Another 12% will cover fuel costs and an additional 30% will go to cover the rest of the expenses, like reinvestment in gear, safety equipment, insurance, moorage, groceries and Extratuf boots. What’s left over (about 30%) is what the boat owner keeps and uses to take his wife out to dinner at Local Ocean Seafoods.
What happens to the crab?
Turns out it takes an estimated 1,000 processing to support our 1,000 Oregon crab fishermen (captain and crew). Do you think a crab gets from the docks in Newport to your plate (or to China for that matter) by crawling sideways? No! And this doesn’t even consider the 25 waitresses, cooks, and Amber (always in a class by herself) at Local Ocean – feeding you, the consuming public Oregon’s delicious bounty.
The future is so bright… just take those numbers and add 50%. Now bear in mind, these numbers come from average prices paid between 2004 and 2008. What happened this year? Massive increases in prices paid to fishermen. I mean MASSIVE. Dungeness crab fishermen will enjoy an opening price today that is 50% higher than last year. Same for tuna, blackcod, shrimp and other fishermen. Demand is up. Prices are great. Catches are solid. And the coastal fishing economy is looking really good for the future.
What does all this have to do with wave energy?
Seems crabbers and wave energy developers are fond of the same kind of ocean real estate: sandy bottom, close to ports. Possibility for conflict? Sure, and that is how I find myself here in Astoria joined by very smart people in a poorly-ventilated, artificially-lit conference room for the next two days to negotiate all this: fishing industry, wave energy, state and local governments, the environmental community and the public at large.
The fact is that there is a lot of uncertainty associated with the technologies being proposed by energy interests. Do they stay where they are supposed to? Do they have harmful effects on fish, mammals and birds? Do they even generate electrons? But don’t get me wrong, fishermen are not entirely closing the door on the conversation either. Some fishing leaders agree that we can find a limited number of low-conflict, small areas that will allow our new neighbor to test technologies and demonstrate not only that they can generate power, but perhaps more importantly that they can keep their enormous devices tethered to where they are supposed to be in the ocean – even in the most unforgiving of winter storm surges.
Thankfully, Oregon has a strong commercial fishing and seafood producing legacy. We have protections in statewide planning goals that are supposed to ensure that valuable fishing grounds are protected from new developments.
We know that a lot of industries are looking west to solve some of the future’s most demanding problems: energy production, food production, protection of ecological resources, ecosystem services. All I’m here to say today is that Oregon’s commercial fisheries are a real bright spot for the future. I am so proud of our crab fishermen, risking their lives to feed us delicious and nutritious food – and (who knew?) contributing so much to our fiscal bottom line. When you enjoy your Christmas crab this week, be thankful to the fishermen and civic leaders working to keep Oregon’s fisheries healthy and economically prosperous.
Local Ocean Seafoods is committed to the following mission: “to give people the best seafood experience of their lives”.