Brookings Dungeness crab season started with a bang, with a record first month catch thanks to the combination of favorable weather, big crab and no major accidents.
A crew member aboard a Port of Brookings Harbor crab boat delivers the first crab of the season in December. The Pilot/Arwyn Rice
However, January’s storms kept the Oregon fishing fleet in port, leaving the remaining crab crawling on the sea floor available for a long spring and summer season.
The difference between December and January is stark, Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission Executive Director Nick Furman said. In December Oregon crab boats unloaded 17.8 million pounds of crab, but January’s haul was only 2.5 million pounds.Of the 20 million pounds of crab caught, more than two million pounds were unloaded at the Port of Brookings Harbor, and shipped to processing facilities elsewhere.
Prices for the crab were fair as well, Furman said. The combination of a good catch and fair prices resulted in a healthy economic shot in the arm for crab ports.
The Brookings Harbor haul of 2,401,640 pounds of crab sold at an average price of $1.75 and resulted in $4,226,886 for Brookings crab boat owners.
Much of that will be put back into boat maintenance and improvement, which will benefit port facilities such as boat shops and supply stores, and filter into the larger coastal economy, Furman said.
Brookings Harbor had the fourth highest catch total in the state, behind Charleston, Newport and Astoria.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard Chetco River Station at Brookings Harbor port, there were several minor boat incidents, such as engine failures. A few boats had to be towed back to port, but the Brookings fleet avoided serious accidents and injuries.
Statewide, one fishing boat was lost off of Coos Bay, and a fisherman was killed in an accident near Astoria.
“It casts a (shadow) on an otherwise good year,” Furman said.
Fishing captains at the Port of Brookings Harbor say there are still crab out there, but they’re getting harder to find.
“We probably harvested 85 percent of the crab out there,” Lady Louise Captain John Terebesi said. “There are probably only 10 or 15 percent left that are big enough to harvest.”
Brookings Harbor attracted boats from San Francisco and beyond because of the good harvest in the area, Terebesi said. Suppliers who ran six boats last year had more than 20 boats this year.
Once the initial flurry of December crab is past, many crab fishermen pull their pots when crab is less plentiful and concentrate on tuna, he said.
“It’s just enough to make a living,” he said.
Terebesi said he plans to continue catching crab until the season ends in August, or until marketable crab no longer appear in his traps, he said.
Once the big males are gone, traps are full of females and undersize crab, he said.
As many as 30 female and small male crab are carefully returned to the water from each pot to breed, often leaving only one or two large males for harvest.
One crab per pot for 500 pots is often typical for late-season crabbing, Terebesi said.