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No Christmas Crab? Fishermen and wholesale buyer pricing dispute pushes into holidays

Posted at 4:28 PM, Dec 24, 2020

One holiday tradition that will have to be postponed this year for most is Dungeness crab.

A delay in opening crab season and now a pricing dispute between fishermen and buyers means that crab boats won't be heading out to sea.

According to the California Department of Fish Wildlife, Dungeness crab season is now open but customers may not be seeing them in stores this Christmas and potentially into the new year.

Commercial fisherman Tom Capen in Avila Beach is working on his equipment instead of heading out on the water for the opening of crab season this year.

“There’s a strike going on right now. The entire fleet is tied up that is California and Oregon," he says.

The strike is over prices.

Capen says there is a dollar difference between what fishermen are asking for and what most crab buyers are offering.

“We were offered $2.25 a pound off the boat and usually we start at $3.25... It makes no sense for us to fish for that, we love what we do, but we also want to make money.”

Local fish market owner Giovanni DeGarimore says Dungeness crabs are a holiday favorite.

“It’s a holiday tradition for so many families that you see a very large demand this time of year," he says.

Pricing disputes have happened before. In 2017, an estimated 1,200 fishing boats from 15 ports also went on strike and eventually reached an agreement with buyers and processors after about 2 weeks.

“I just hope the season opens soon and we can get the fresh Dungeness crab to the public... I get calls all day for people that want to buy crab, so I hope it happens sooner than later,” says Capen.

And DeGarimore stands behind his suppliers, even if it means selling fewer local crabs this year.

“We stand behind the fishermen 100 percent. They shouldn’t go fishing until the price is right. It's unfortunate that it's going to stifle the market a little bit, but you got to do what’s right and you got to pay the fishermen what they deserve," he says.

According to a statement from Dungeness crab buyer Pacific Seafood:

“We can’t speak for other processors, and we are one of many buyers, but we’re actively working with the fisherman who fish for Pacific Seafood and the fishermen associations in the ports where we do business. This year is especially challenging for all parties involved given the significant drop in demand due to restaurant closures and event cancellations. The associations have communicated to us that they would like to postpone crab negotiations until after Christmas. Discussion will continue after Christmas and Pacific Seafood looks forward to deliveries of fresh, Dungeness Crab soon."

-Rick Harris, Regional General Manager for Pacific Seafood

According to Pacific Seafood, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the Dungeness crab supply chain with government closures of restaurants and stay-at-home orders causing restaurant and food service demand to fall by more than 70 percent.

Fishermen say while it's a stretch, they hope that Dungeness crab will be available again and in stores by New Year's Eve.