Fleet holding firm on prices

Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Oregon skippers pledge their support as crabs wait

Skippers in the Northern California commercial Dungeness crab fleet decided Wednesday morning to continue their strike, feeling that the market is in their favor to demand a higher price than buyers' initial offer of $2.50 per pound.

"It's one of the strongest markets we've had in a long time," said Richard Nehmer, owner of the fishing vessel Resolution in Crescent City. "And we know there's very little volume" based on what has been caught by recreational crabbers, Nehmer said.

Commercial vessels could have started fishing Sunday when the Northern California season opened.

The North Coast fleet, whichincludes ports from Crescent City to Fort Bragg, also feels buoyed by a market report produced for the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission stating that market demand for Dungeness is strong and stable.

The market report is equally funded by fishermen and seafood processors, according to Hugh Link, executive director of the commission.

Information from the report was shared with Crescent City commercial fishermen during an informational meeting Tuesday, according to Rick Shepherd, president of the Del Norte Fishermen's Marketing Association.

"That showed us that we're not out of line for asking for three dollars," Shepherd said on Tuesday.

John Sackton, author of the report and the editor and publisher of seafood.com, an industry news website, said that his report did demonstrate that crab markets are healthy and maintaining some stability, but he said the report does not recommend a specific opening price.

"It's hard to know where the price will settle out until we know what the coast-wide harvest will be," Sackton said by telephone from the East Coast on Wednesday. "I don't blame these guys for wanting to get a higher price, but I don't know if the evidence is there to support it yet."

The seafood buyers' offer of $2.50 per pound is what the starting price was last season.

There has been very little negotiation between the two sides, according to the fishing fleet.

Fishermen have said that reports from recreational crabbers show there will be fewer crabs caught this year, warranting a higher opening price.

If that's the case, Sackton said the market will self-correct.

"You really don't know what's going to happen until people start laying pots," Sackton said. "That price could change radically in just a few days if guys go out and find there's not much crab around."

On Tuesday, Shepherd said that the California fleet got word that Oregon commercial crab boat skippers said they would support the strike.

"They are holding firm with us at a $3 price," said Shepherd.

Other Crescent City crab vessel owners said it's easy for Oregon fishermen to say they'll support the strike when their season doesn't open until Dec. 16 anyway.

Meanwhile, Northern California fishermen are on standby, which can be a stressful position to languish in for days on end.

"I'm not having fun anymore waiting for a fair market price," said Nehmer.

Crabbers have been rotating their bait from the freezer to a thawed state and back again, all to make sure they are ready to go out when they get word that the strike is lifted.

David Evanow, of the fishing vessels Darin Alan and Sea Hunter summed up the holding pattern: "I'd rather be fishing, but I have no problem staying in for more money."

The North Coast fleet plans to have another meeting on the strike today.

Reach Adam Spencer at aspencer@triplicate.com .

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