Early Dungeness Crab Landings Good for Tribal Fishermen

OLYMPIC COAST(Dec. 19,2007)–Despite spotty soft shell crab conditions early, coastal tribal crab fishermen are cautiously optimistic about the season after landing 1.7 million pounds of crab prior to the Dec. 2 storm.

“The farther north up the coast fishermen went, the more sorting for soft shells that had to be done,” said Joe Schumacker, fisheries operations section manager for the Quinault Indian Nation. Dungeness crabs shed their old shell (molt) and grow a new one about 12 times by age 2, and then approximately once a year through age 6. While the new shell is hardening, there is much less meat on the crab and it’s mushy. Soft shell crab must be returned to the water.

“We still had around 1 million pounds landed in November,” said Schumacker. “December didn’t start out too well, however. Fishermen lost a lot of crab gear in the December storm. Some are applying for small business loans to get more gear.”

Quileute tribal fishermen had to wait longer to fish as a large portion of the crab was still soft. “But once they could get out and crab conditions had improved, the guys did well,” said Kris Northcut, harvest management biologist for the Quileute Tribe. “Now it’s just a matter of how many fishable days they get.”

Inconsistent crab abundance in the Neah Bay area makes the crab fisher less significant for the Makah Tribe and the Hoh Tribe plans to participate in the future.

The Dungeness crab fishery is one of the economic pillars for coastal tribal fishermen as well as one of the most dangerous. Most of the money is made in November and December when weather conditions can be the worst. A good year means fishermen can buy new gear or get a better boat to improve their effort the following season.

The state commercial crab season nets an average of 9.5 million pounds, with highs of more than 25 million in the 2004-2005 season.While Quileute and Quinault tribal fishermen had record landings in 2005 at 1.4 million and 2.7 million pounds respectively – it was still a small percentage of the overall harvest.

For more information, contact: Joe Schumacker, fisheries operation section manager, Quinault Indian Nation, (360) 276-8215, ext 327; Kris Northcut, harvest management biologist, Quileute Tribe, (360) 374-6074; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commisson, (360) 374-5501, [email protected]