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3-Minute Market Insight

EP 512 | AIRED 11/02/2020

Global Dungeness Crab Fall Market Update

November 2, 2020 --- This week we update on the Dungeness Crab Market and all the Fisheries as we are currently in the middle of Alaska's fall fishery, and Washington, Oregon, and California start preparing for the new 2020/2021 season.

--- Starting in Alaska and the summer harvest now stands at 5.87 million lbs - which already exceeds full season harvest for every past season except the 2002/2003 summer season which saw 5.94 million lbs making the 2020/2021 summer season harvest in Alaska the second highest summer season harvest on record.

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Fishery managers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are now estimating a full season harvest of 6.61 million lbs - compare this to a full season harvest of 5.3 million in 2019 and 4.08 million in 2018.

The current full season harvest total is just over 6 million lbs with about one month of fishing left.

Although this season's harvest reached record levels, the value of the fishery was far less than previous seasons with ex-vessel pricing averaging $1.68/lb from June to now compared to the past 5 season average of about $3.00/lb.

Alaska's summer fishery runs from June to August and the fall fishery runs from October to November and is not limited by a seasonal catch limit.

Global Dungeness Crab Fall Market Update

--- Moving down the coast to British Columbia Canada and it's looking like another high producing year for BC's Dungeness Crab fishery despite being shutdown early in the season for softshell issues.

Preliminary harvest totals will not be available from Fisheries and Oceans Canada until after the season ends in March 2021 however the buzz from harvesters is that Northern Crab Management Areas A & B are seeing another year of Crab Abundance.

In 2019, BC's Dungeness Crab fishery recorded 18.27 million lbs harvested - a big jump from the 10.32 million harvest in 2018.

Canada's Dungeness fishery runs all year long from April to March and is not limited by a seasonal catch limit.

--- Continuing down the West Coast to Washington and overall landings and value were about 1.5 million below the ten year average.

The final harvest total from the 2019/2020 season is for 10.53 million lbs - compare this to 11.74 million in the 2018/2019 season, and 12.04 million in the 2017/2018 season.

The majority of this state's catch is typically landed in the first two months and it is this fact, coupled with a high starting price, that led to a high average value of about $3.73/lb that overcame the price drop that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

As fishery managers prepare to open the 2020/2021 season, recent testing showed poor meat recovery of 18.7 percent in the South and 19.6 percent in the North - the fishery is opened when meat recovery reaches 23 percent.

It is important to note that this is just a pre-test and does not suggest a delay to the December 1st opener.

Fishery managers will know more after more after their November testing.

Washington's Dungeness Crab fishery typically runs from December to September and is not limited by a seasonal catch limit.

Global Dungeness Crab Fall Market Update

--- Moving onto Oregon and newly released data shows 19.98 million lbs harvested by the end of the season that ended in August.

In December, at the beginning of the season ex-vessel pricing started out in the low 3's, climbed to the low $6 range in May, then settling back down in the $4 range throughout June to August for a 2019/2020 season average of $3.64/lb.

Oregon has been one of the largest producers of Dungeness over the past 4 seasons harvesting 18.67 million lbs in the 2018/19 season, 23.05 million in 2017/18, and 20.37 million lbs in 2016/17.

Fishery managers are in the midst of getting organized for the first round of preseason testing for meat recovery and domoic acid testing.

Oregon's Dungeness fishery runs from December to August and is not limited by a seasonal catch limit.

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--- Lastly onto the California Dungeness Crab fishery and 13.76 million lbs were harvested by the end of June to finish off the 2019/2020 season.

Commercial landings of Dungeness crab are very similar for the last 2 seasons, but when we look at the breakdown between the northern and central regions there are some differences - notes Christy Juhasz, Environmental Scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Christy goes on to explain that the season before last (2018/2019), 70 percent was landed in the North while this past season (2019/2020), 60 percent was landed in the central management area.

It is not unusual for total commercial landings to vary dramatically from one season to the next based on available crab which has been tied to successful recruitment of larval crab 3-5 years prior.

There also has been work that has shown the time it takes for these crabs to reach minimum legal size in that fishery by management area can also vary with crab sometimes maturing faster in the central management area versus the north.

The past 20 seasons has seen a higher frequency of statewide landings totaling 20 million pounds or more, with 8 out of the 20 seasons resulting in this total or higher, than we have seen in previous decades prior to 2000/2001 seasons where anything over 10 million pounds was considered high for the fishery.

Global Dungeness Crab Fall Market Update

It remains to be seen if the 2020/2021 season will continue to see a downward trend in statewide seasonal landings or not especially since the management areas have recently resulted in asynchronous landings compared to one another.

We would likely have a better understanding about 2-3 months into the upcoming season when the majority of landings have occurred.

Depending on open delays and early closures (due to marine life entanglement risk), California's season runs from November to July and is also not limited by a seasonal catch limit.

Update (Nov 4, 2020): For the second consecutive year, California officials are delaying the Bay Area’s commercial Dungeness crab season to decrease the chances of whales currently off the coast getting ensnarled by fishing lines.

The season, scheduled to start Nov. 15, will be postponed until at least Dec. 1, when the next assessment will take place.


--- Nationwide, we estimate 2020 Dungeness harvest totals from Canada and all US fisheries to ring-in close to 2019's nationwide totals of 67.50 million lbs and 2018's 70.29 million lbs.

Pricing in the market seems to have stablized from a rollercoaster year of high's and low's with COVID-19 adding further complications.

The 2019/2020 season started with so much promise as China was yet again the driving force behind live and frozen sales.

Tariffs were lowered, demand was good, and prices were increasing going into Chinese New Year where live Dungeness can fetch up to $30/lb in Asian markets - but then with the arrival of COVID, it all just stopped in March.

China stopped all imports, restaurants began lockdowns globally and domestically - forcing increased cold storage holdings as processors quickly shifted from fresh to frozen production.

Scott Adams of Hallmark Fisheries noted "Everyone had 1 or 2 million pounds of crab lying around".

Global Dungeness Crab Fall Market Update

As the nation adjusted to new social distancing measures, crab shacks and other restaurants built add-on spaces and large outdoor areas to offer social distancing dining and then product began to flow again.

Fast forward to October and current market conditions for Dungeness are that export sales from China have still not recovered, domestic demand is slow, and to clear any confusion - a source of mine noted there is not an excess of Dungeness in freezers.

As the foodservice industry in North America now transitions into winter months, it will be interesting to see how outdoor dining venues push through winter.

Ultimately we may still see a damper on Dungeness Crab sales again in foodservice.

However, at the same time the market is moving into the Holiday season where we may start seeing a surge in live Crab sales from holiday season promotions and gatherings.

All while the world awaits the affects to come after the upcoming US Presidential election.

Whatever may transpose, we anticipate a steady flow of Dungeness from on-going fall and winter fisheries and we do not anticipate any supply issues.

Our recommendation is to start thinking about your holiday season seafood requirements with special attention to the opportunity potential of this high margin and always popular seafood delicacy that is Dungeness Crab.

If you are looking for frozen or live Dungeness, please contact the reliable seafood experts at Tradex Foods to help secure your Crab requirements.

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