Oregon crabbers miss big holiday take as season delays

COOS COUNTY, Ore.– December usually marks the beginning of crab season on the Oregon coast. However, over the past couple of years, the season has been delayed till the new year with many crabbers missing out on the holiday tourism and some big bucks.

Crab is king for restaurants like Tony’s Crab Shack in Bandon. Owner Tony Roszkowski has served the local fare for nearly three decades.

But in the last two to three years, crab season has been delayed till after the holidays hurting business.

“It kind of puts a little pressure on the holiday crab which has always been a big deal,” said Roszkowski. “People come and come to visit their relatives in town and they want to feed them some of the local fare or just take advantage of the local fare when it opens in December.”

The delay is due to a set fill rate – how much meat is in the crab. Seasons are usually put on hold until the crabs reach a fill rate of 25 percent.

The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission in Coos Bay says this is done to ensure everyone gets the best product and the most money. But that doesn’t necessarily help the people doing the fishing.

“They go a month without a check that they expect to get in December and a big check,” said Executive Director Hugh Link. “So there goes their Christmas, maybe their boat payments are due. So there’s a big hardship for the fleet.”

According to the commission, last year the industry provided nearly $74 million to fishermen and $150 million to the state’s economy – a record breaker of harvests. But everyone still missed the holiday.

“It’s hard to keep your employees on when you have these delays,” said Tyler Long, a local fisherman. “Last year, we didn’t get going till the end of January and it’s tough on everybody involved.”

Long has been crabbing in the town of Charleston for 18 years. He says with delays, crew retainment becomes the most difficult as people move on to find paying jobs.

“As of right now, we just try and keep guys busy and keep from running off,” he said. “Work on the boat, work on things in the shop but at this point now my guys haven’t been working for a week cause we don’t have anything to do.”

Long says the crabs in Oregon are ready but due to an agreement with Washington and California, everyone must wait till all three states meet the fill rate. Since most fishermen get licenses to fish in all three states’ waters, regulations have been set to ensure no one area becomes swamped with crabbers if it happens to open earlier than others.

“They have a set of rules that open up certain amount of areas, only draws certain boundary lines to keep it fair for people that don’t move up and down the coast,” said Long.

It’s a system meant to level the playing field but when the entire industry is put on hold money gets tight. But from the sea to the table, everyone has seen this before and they’re ready to ride this wave once again.

“These last two to three years have been tough but we’ll get through it,” said Roszkowski.

The next set of fill tests are scheduled to take place at the end of the month. It’s anticipated the season should be open at the beginning of the new year.


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