The Lumberjack

The North Coast Crab Fleet is geared up

Standing at the fish counter at Katy’s Smokehouse, you get a sense of the sea around you. The breeze and the roar of the sea is right outside, while the inside is warm. The experience is accompanied by the aroma of smoked fish. If you like fish and crab, there is no place like Katy’s.

Bob Lake is the owner of Katy’s Smokehouse in Trinidad. He makes his living off of the sea, selling fish at his market. Lake’s routine involves loading and unloading boats and supplying bait to the Trinidad Crab Fleet at the pier, which is located just down the street from his market.

The North Coast Crab Fleet consists of Eureka, Trinidad and Crescent City combined. The ideal Dungeness crabs have a 25 percent to 28 percent meat-to-shell ratio, but crabs can even get as big as 30 percent, meat per shell. The official ratio for the commercial crab fleet is set at 25 percent meat to shell. People pay good money for Dungeness crabs, and fishermen don’t want to sell anything but the best. A crab with a 25 percent to 28 percent meat-to-shell ratio means a happy customer.

Fisherman went out Tuesday, Jan. 23 to catch some crabs to send to the processor for meat-to-shell ratio tests. Up until now, the crabs have had a 19 to 20 percent meat-to-shell ratio this season.

“It would be a waste of a resource, and a travesty, to take these crabs in the condition they are currently in,” Lake said.

Crab developmental problems have been due to the possibilities of a late molting period and less available food on the ocean floor. The competition for food is a big factor. When crabs get into this state, cannibalism becomes prevalent, and the weak get eaten by the strong.

“There is just not enough food to keep every crab full,” Lake said.

Testing protocol states strict testing sites and no selecting of the catch. If the fishermen were to bring in poor crabs and delude the processor, the observers themselves could not afford the cost of doing business. The yield, quality and customers’ perceptions of the crabs are worth the substantial amount of money it costs. These details are all taken into account before the crab season begins. Crab fisherman have to protect the resource and their customers.

As fishing officially begins, the market sets the price. If the fleet catches a lot of crabs, the price goes down. If more crabs are being caught than can be sold at market, the price will be lowered to allow more people to buy the abundant crabs. If at some point there are not enough crabs, or if the market is sucking them up faster than the fisherman can bring the crabs in, then the price will go up.

The locally agreed upon ex-vessel price is set by the large buyers and the Fisherman’s Market Association that represents the North Coast Crab Fleet’s three ports in Eureka, Trinidad and Crescent City.

“The retail price will be around $4.99 per pound,” Lake said. “Canneries and processors pay fish taxes, loading fees, transportation and the employees get paid to cook the crabs.”

Lake and the crew of the F/V Joie-Lynn, Cary Meyer and Clark Ward, all expect a very good year for crab lovers and the fleet alike.

“I was born with optimism,” Ward said.

Optimism swirls aboard Meyer and Ward’s crab fishing vessel, Joie-Lynn. Meyer and Ward said the crabs were caught, tested and showed 25 percent meat-to-shell last week, meaning the crab season can get under way as soon as a dock price per pound for Dungeness crab is set.

This story was updated on Feb. 1, 2018 from its original publication on Jan. 23, 2018 per request by the author.