Crabber strike grows, pinching supply

Members of a striking crab fishers’ association in Northern California met Wednesday¬†afternoon to discuss the ongoing work stoppage that has limited the availability of Dungeness crab on the entire west coast.

As of today, the strike has been going for about five days and extends from Canada to Half Moon Bay. It stems from a price dispute between Northern Californian crabbers and Pacific Seafood Group, which the crabbers have accused of trying to reduce a negotiated price of $3 a pound.

Other crab fishers have joined in, including in San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, where crabbers tied their boats on Friday at midnight, according to Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association Vice President Ken Bates.

In all, nearly 1,200 fishing crews have stopped working, significantly limiting the west coast crab supply.

Typically the price for crab is negotiated at the start of the season in November or December. Crabbers in the Eureka area were getting $3 per pound, but Pacific Seafood unilaterally attempted to lower the prices it was paying to $2.75 per pound, according to Bates.

“Pacific Group may have believed that the fishermen in the ports of Fort Bragg, Eureka, and the minor ports of Shelter Cove and Point Arena would just roll over and accept the lowered price offered by Pacific Group,” the Humboldt fishers association said in a statement. “Instead, those fishermen tied up their boats, refusing to fish for less than the previously agreed on price of $3.00 per pound.” They had been paying the $3 price since November, according to the group, and Pacific Seafood would have dropped the price effective Dec. 26.

Asked for comment, Pacific Seafood general counsel Dan Occhipinti said in a statement, “Pacific Seafood is just one of many buyers along the coast. Along with harvesters, processors, grocers and restaurants, we are all in this together, and everyone has to decide what they think the market will support.” “It can be challenging to find the right balance, but we’re confident that at the end of the day, consumers will get wholesome, sustainably harvested Dungeness crab at a price they can afford.” Occhipinti said.

Once the Humboldt-area crabbers went on strike on Friday, other crabbers across the whole west coast followed suit. While smaller fish companies are still willing to pay the $3 price, crabbers are concerned the large Pacific Seafood company is attempting to leverage crab fishers to depress prices statewide.

“Fishermen and their families are very concerned that if successful, Pacific Group’s ex-vessel price reduction attempt will depress prices to fishermen for years to come,” the Humboldt association said.

Crab fishers were already in a tough position after a severely limited season in 2015-2016, when levels of Domoic acid, a toxin that comes from algae blooms, were determined to be too high for Dungeness crab fishing to be safe.