Crab season a bust in Brookings

Written by Don Iler, Pilot staff writer December 31, 2013 09:05 am

While other ports in Oregon are looking at a good Dungeness crab season, commercial fishermen out of the Port of Brookings Harbor are reporting small harvests, with many already pulling their crab traps out of the water for good. 

Last year, Brookings had one of its best years and led the state in landings, hauling in more than 5 million pounds of crab. But this year fishermen are reporting worse than average harvests.

“We figured we were going to have another decent year. We didn’t think it was going to be as big as last year, but we didn’t think it was going to be this down,” said Bernie Lindley, fishermen and boat owner.

Lindley said many fishermen have already stopped fishing for crab or have gone on to other ports. 

“Two boats were picking up their gear (Monday) and taking it home. A couple of boats did the same last week,” Lindley said. “The boats from out of town have already left and gone home.”

Scott Adams, plant manager for Hallmark Fisheries in Charleston, which buys crab from fishermen in Brookings, called it a “major disaster for fish buyers in Brookings.”

But even with the low numbers, the quality of crab is good, and the price of crab paid to fishermen, which started at $2.65 a pound and increased to $2.75 a pound, is now standing at $3 a pound in Brookings and Charleston according to Adams. 

Preliminary numbers for Brookings are nearly 308,000 pounds according to Hugh Link, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. So far, fishermen have landed 4.2 million pounds statewide according to Link.

Even though Brookings is having a down year, other ports on the coast are better, especially from Newport and Astoria. 

Troy Buell, state fisheries management program leader with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said numbers are still very preliminary, but that Brookings looked down and Astoria and Newport were having a good year. 

Adams confirmed that, saying the amount of crab caught in Astoria is large this year, with many fishermen coming from Washington and up the coast to fish there. He also said that Port Orford is having a good year and, while not as down as Brookings, Charleston and Winchester are seeing good amounts too. 

Dungeness crab catches tend to be cyclical, cycling from good to bad years every five to seven years. The fishery is sustainable, with only male crabs at least 6.25 inches across the back of the shell harvested. All female and smaller crabs are returned to the ocean.