Nel's New Day

January 1, 2019

Sue Hardesty: Crabbing on the Oregon Coast

Filed under: Sue Hardesty — trp2011 @ 8:50 PM
Tags: , ,

On the first day of 2019, I am planning to add a blogger to Nels New Day. My partner of almost 50 years, Sue Hardesty, began a series of commentaries, complete with photographs, on her Facebook page. I enjoy her posts and want people who don’t participate in FB to enjoy these entries. You can follow Hardesty here.

We live in a fishing town that lands the 11th highest quantity of commercial fish in the country. An important part of that product is the Dungeness crab with the harvesting typically beginning on December 1. Our house is above the bay, and we watch the boats loading crab pots, leaving in the middle of the night, and bringing back the take a few days later—many times in the stormiest weather of the year.

In some years the fishing for crabs is delayed because of either the crabs’ low meat or their toxins–or both. This year, the boats couldn’t to out until the end of December, leaving on New Year’s Eve. The lack of sales over the busy Christmas vacation on the coast dearly cost the people in the fishing industry. Fortunately, they were able to get out in good weather. A video of crabs filling the pots.

From Sue Hardesty:

Through all the years that I have lived above docks filled with fishing boats, I have always enjoyed the beginning of crab season the most. Starting in early November, I watch the boats fill to the rafters with crab pots that are stored on the banks of the river waiting to be needed. Although they cannot crab until midnight of December first, they are allowed to drop their pots 64 hours before the first. You can imagine the exodus of nearly two hundred boats. Suddenly, over a few hours the docks are empty and, like a string of ants, the boats have all gone to claim a place to drop their pots. Just as suddenly they are home again, waiting for midnight, December 1st. Then they are gone again. During the next three months I can see their lights far out to sea as they head for home with (hopefully) a full belly in their hold. Then the unloading begins with bags of ice and huge crates in a semi-circle for the crane, unloading the boats, to fill.

Even though a crabber needs a commercial fishing license, a Master license, U.S. Coast Guard licensure, and first aid/CPR certificate, along with special equipment like boots and gloves, crab fishing is one of those jobs that the main qualification is a strong back rather than a whole lot of education. Along with getting up at 4:00 a.m. and not stopping for thirteen or more hours, wild and crazy storms with swells 20 feet or higher, bitter cold weather and sideways heavy rain slapping you in the face, crab pots that weigh as much as 800 pounds pulled up over and over dumping up to 150,000 pounds of crab in the hold, living the life is a snap. And the pay ain’t bad either.  $25,000 to $100,00 salary for three months work, depending on experience and crabs caught which can wholesale for around $2.00 or more a pound. Do the math. That’s $300,000.00 a load. Usually boats fill their hold several times during a season.

This year, however, Christmas is upon us and the crab boats are still tied up to the docks with very few filled with pots because the crabs are too small. I’m beginning to think it’s time for crabbers to find another job, especially for those who like to live on the sharp edge. Like one crabber described, “It’s one of the last things where you can wake up in the morning and you have no idea what’s going to happen,” he says. “It’s the last cowboy-ish thing to do.” Or he could drive a truck on ice roads. The average pay is $2,000 for round-trip taking about 20 hours driving during which you cannot stop or rest because sinking through the ice is as real as it gets. Or if you don’t like driving on ice, you could be a storm chaser and get a TV station to pay $500 for storm footage and, if you want company, passengers will often pay as high as $3,500 for the trip. I think I would forget about the filming and hire a bus. So many fun choices.

So, Huston, we have a problem, and the problem is not with the crabs.

I have heard several reasons for the poor quality of crab such as the greedy fishermen have over-crabbed. Or the polluted run-off from farm caused deadly domoic acid in crabs. Then there are always the conspiracy theorists who say a small group of rich men is controlling the whole coast and calling all the shots. Or the one I agree with—global warming of the ocean waters has caused low oxygen which is now striking a big swath of “hot spots” off the West Coast causing extreme hypoxia, killing the crab and anything else. Even scarier is that low oxygen is no longer just at the seafloor; it has climbed up to half of the water column. Or so the NOAA Coastal Hypoxia Research Program has reported. One crabber dropped 120 pots and brought up four live crabs. Another pulled up gobs of dead crab and a few miles away pulled up gobs of healthy ones. This phenomenon has become so common in the last few years we now have a hypoxia season. Fire Season, Hypoxia Season, what’s next? Annihilation Season?

There is hope. As NOAA researches the effects of hypoxia, OSU Hatfield Center is dropping 40 “dissolved oxygen” sensors on crab pots to determine how rapidly hypoxia develops, and where. There is also a bill (H.R. 6267) in Oregon Congress attempting to deal with ocean acidification. And a lawsuit was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court where commercial crabbers in Oregon and California are suing 30 fossil fuel companies, accusing them of raising ocean temperatures and causing algal blooms that have shortened the crab season the past three years that will likely will continue to do so. “We believe it’s a substantiated claim that harm has been done by one industry to another and the industry that caused that harm should pay,” said Noah Oppenheim, the association’s executive director. He went on to say that “climate science has advanced to the point that the connection between fossil fuel use and domoic acid closures is “crystal clear.” Crab is the most valuable single species commercial fishery in Oregon, with an average harvest of 16 million pounds per season, all caught with Oregon’s fleet of 424 boats.

 

Information:

https://today.oregonstate.edu/news/2018-one-worst-low-oxygen-years-ocean-oregon-which-now-has-%E2%80%9Chypoxia-season%E2%80%9D

https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/tech/science/environment/2018/11/26/oregon-crabbers-sue-oil-companies-climate-change-industry-impact/2073140002/

Photos by Sue Hardesty.

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks for posting this, Nel. And, thank you Sue for the photos and writing about crab season on the Oregon Coast. Steve and I were so excited to finally see the lights of the crab boats on the ocean New Years Eve. Somehow, it makes me feel warm, cozy and secure even though I know that those gathering the crab are anything but that. Let us hope for a safe and tragedy-free season.

    Like

    Comment by Central Oregon Coast NOW — January 4, 2019 @ 7:06 AM | Reply

  2. Great addition to the blog! As a lapsed occasional facebooker I really appreciate this.

    Like

    Comment by Lee Lynch — January 1, 2019 @ 9:38 PM | Reply


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