Crab Wholesaler’s Price Cut Spurs Fishing Strike

(CN) – California’s crab-fishing fleets remained in harbor over the holiday weekend as West Coast commercial fishermen continued their strike against a holiday price drop brought by an influential wholesale buyer.

Fishing organizations from Washington to California have tied up their boats in response to buyer Pacific Choice Seafood’s decision to drop Dungeness crab prices by a quarter, from $3 per pound to $2.75, on Dec. 26.

The fishermen say the Eureka-based conglomerate suddenly backed off the $3-per-pound price during the lucrative holiday season less than two months after negotiating the higher price with West Coast fishermen.

“As of 10 a.m. Jan. 2, 2017 the West Coast Dungeness crab fleet remains tied up. Nearly 1,200 boats, captains and crews are holding coastwide for re-establishment of the $3 pound price for Dungeness crabs,” the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association said in a statement.

The strike began Dec. 28 on California’s Northern Coast and the mass tie-up quickly spread north to the Canadian border. Entire fishing crews, truck drivers and exporters were out of work over the New Year’s holiday, the association said.

The strikers worry that the seemingly miniscule 25-cent reduction could balloon into larger price cuts in the future. The current price cut stands to reduce the income per fishing boat by $7,000 to $10,000 over the current season, the association estimates.

Some claim that the wholesaler’s sudden price drop is linked to China’s decision to stop importing West Coast Dungeness crab this year.

West Coast fishermen are still reeling from a widespread toxic algae bloom that delayed major stretches of the 2015-2016 Dungeness fishing season. The bloom was generated by unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures and docked commercial crab fleets for months.

State officials delayed the opening of the season because crabs tested positive for high levels of a hazardous neurotoxin called domoic acid. Eating the toxic crabs can cause nausea, breathing problems and seizures in humans.

The fishing ban led California Gov. Jerry Brown to petition Congress for disaster relief, citing more than $48 million in economic damages.

While stretches of Northern California were opened to commercial fishing on Dec. 1, state officials have closed other portions because of high domoic acid levels. The Dungeness crab fishery north of Point Reyes in Marin County to the Mendocino-Sonoma county line remains closed.

The association says it will continue to strike until Pacific Choice Seafood honors the negotiated $3 per pound of the popular crustacean.

“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 association said.

In a statement, Pacific Seafood’s general counsel Dan Occhipinti said the move would benefit consumers.

“Pacific Seafood is just one of many buyers along the coast, and along with harvesters, processors, grocers and restaurants, we are all in this together.  Buyers and sellers each have 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.