Crab to hit stores next week

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The 2013-2014 crab season is underway.

Dungeness crab fishermen got the go-ahead to begin setting their pots along the Oregon Coast at 8 a.m. on Friday after an agreement was reached in the annual state-supervised crab price negotiations late Wednesday, said Hugh Link, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

On Monday, the fishing boats can begin hauling in their catch, which means the fresh-caught crab could be on Lane County tables as early as Tuesday, according to Dwight Collins of Newman’s Fish Company in Eugene.

“Typically, the fleet can start plucking their pots on Sunday night at midnight,” Collins said. “Given the tides, and how quickly they’ll be filling their boats, we expect deliveries of live crab to hit the processors some time Monday. We’re hoping to get product over by Tuesday.”

The price negotiated between the state’s five port crab marketing associations and five seafood processors was 15 percent higher than last year’s record opening minimum of $2.30 per pound, according to the crab commission.

That doesn’t necessarily translate into a direct 15 percent increase in price to consumers, however, according to Collins. “I’ve tried to get some pricing ideas from the processors,” he said, “but they’re waiting to see what the product looks like as far as quality.

“I’m expecting good quality this year,” he said. “I’m expecting some of the nicest crab we’ve seen in a couple of years. The ones we’ve seen out of California have been a lot bigger and a lot fuller (this year).”

Collins said that he doesn’t expect to see the discounting at the start of the season that has occurred in some previous years.

The season was delayed 15 days this year after pre-season testing found that crab in two areas on the coast needed additional time to fill with meat. This put the start of the season really close to the holidays, when there is high demand for fresh Oregon crab, Collins said.

And, although the fishermen like to supply the fresh crab market, he said, the reality is that the local companies buying fresh crab don’t have a lot of negotiating clout. For one thing, “the processors try to put as much away in their freezers as they can when the prices are the best, at the opening of the season,” he said. “They try to put away a year’s supply because, within a month, the prices will be considerably higher.”

Also, Collins said, “A lot of the price is being dictated by the live market in China,” which imports large quantities of fresh Oregon crab.

About 75 to 80 percent of the Oregon crab sold are caught in the first eight weeks of the season. As quantity decreases after that, prices go up, Collins said, which is why the lowest prices are at the beginning of the season.

This year, there will be additional pressure on prices after the opening weeks of the season, he said, “Chinese New Year is at the end of Janaury. They’ll take a lot of crab then.”