Christmas crab dinner could be too expensive this year

Dec 7, 2022, 2:40 PM
Fresh Dungeness crab for sale at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington State, USA. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

For many people, the holidays aren’t complete without a crab feast, and because the King and Snow crab seasons were canceled earlier this year, seafood retailers are relying on Dungeness more than ever.

The Dungeness crab, the only crab native to Washington, is one out of several species in the Northeast Pacific that has experienced a dramatic population decrease in recent seasons.

WA crabbers sit idle amid population busts

“For the Dungeness crab fishery, the U.S. West Coast’s most valuable fishery, hypoxia has resulted in mass mortality of crabs in commercial pots,” according to a project funded by National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, a division of NOAA. “We are working in partnership with coastal tribes in northern California, Oregon, and Washington, the commercial Dungeness Crab fishery, and relevant Federal and State agencies to help them be ready to deal with future climate change, by increasing their understanding of how multiple stressors are likely to impact Dungeness crabs and the communities dependent on them.”

Many factors contributed to crab harvests being suspended this year, including dropping populations from overfishing and climate change.

Tim Novotny, head of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, spoke about how important the role of fishermen played in monitoring the health of these ecosystems.

“Keep in mind the role that the fishermen play in science, you know, they’re out there fishing and trying to bring food and bring that in safely to the table,” Novotny said. “But at the same time, a lot of these guys know the water just as well as a lot of the scientists do, and they see these changes.”

But crab businesses that have existed for generations now have no income, and the repercussions will affect entire communities that support the industry.

In Puget Sound, commercial Dungeness fishing opened Tuesday, but the coastal fisheries have yet to set a start date. The season was delayed by a week because the Dungeness crabs were too small.

Jon Steltz, the owner of Wild Salmon Seafood, says its Mother Nature who calls the shots.

“A lot of people govern what we do, but the one thing that governs us the most is Mother Nature,” Steltz said. “She’s in charge of a lot of stuff.”

You can crab for Dungeness for your own personal use if you have the proper license.

Right now, you can find some previously frozen Dungeness crabs for as low as $10 a pound. The price can vary though, and fishermen expect the price to increase dramatically as the holiday season approaches.

“It just depends on how much they catch, the regular supply and demand issues, and it’s hard to predict what will happen because their cost [to catch the crabs] are up so high,” Steltz said.

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Christmas crab dinner could be too expensive this year