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Oregon Coast Fishing Report
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Oregon Coast Fishing Report
Southwest Zone
Iconic Oregon Coast Dungeness crab fishery receives MSC sustainability certification
Fishing Reports

dungeness_crabThe iconic Oregon Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) fishery has earned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification following independent assessment to the MSC standard for sustainable, well-managed fisheries.  Products from the fishery will now be eligible to bear the blue MSC ecolabel.

About the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery

Dungeness crab is Oregon’s official ‘state crustacean’ and the crabs have been harvested commercially along the Pacific coast since the late 1800’s. This species ranges from central California to the Gulf of Alaska, and has long been part of the Northwest’s seafood heritage. Dungeness crab is Oregon’s most valuable single species fishery.  Oregon’s harvest for the 2009-2010 season was 23,195,059 pounds (10,521 metric tons) and the landed value was $44.8 million.  Dungeness crab landings, however, are naturally cyclical. 

The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission is the fishery client, with 425 limited entry license holders fishing primarily within 10 miles of the Oregon coast.  Dungeness crabs are harvested using steel pots at depths ranging between nine and 146 meters.  Oregon is currently the top producer of Dungeness crab worldwide, and product is sold live, or as fresh or frozen whole cooked crabs, as well as picked meat, legs and sections.  Dungeness crab is shipped to markets around the world—with the United States being the major market. 

Fishing occurs between December and mid-August, with the majority of production occurring during the first eight weeks of the commercial fishing season.  A state managed fishery, Oregon’s Dungeness crab is regulated by size, sex and season, with only males meeting a minimum size standard harvested. Under-sized males and all females are returned to the water unharmed.

Improvements during assessment

In the course of the MSC assessment process, the fishery client worked with academic experts to produce improvements such as:

  • An ongoing monitoring plan which includes measuring female fertilization and abundance rates to produce an estimate of an index of female abundance. 
  •  An age-structured productivity model as a means to assess fishing effort and size limit, which is used to estimate potential Target Reference Points.
  • A proposed Limit Reference Point based on declining catch over time in successive generations, adjusting from a California value to one specific to Oregon.

What the fishery says

“We are very happy to have successfully completed the certification process and join the other fisheries in Oregon and around the world that have earned this important sustainability designation,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “We anticipate that the MSC label will create new marketplace opportunities and recognition for ‘Oregon Dungeness’ as awareness of and demand for certified seafood products grows.”

What the MSC says

“The Oregon Dungeness crab fishery has demonstrated that they are a model fishery in terms of environmental sustainability and working hard to maintain and improve the overall health of the fishery,” said Kerry Coughlin, regional director for MSC Americas. “They have accomplished significant improvements already and have committed to even more progress as part of their MSC certification. We are pleased to have this important fishery in the MSC program and are confident consumers  will welcome this source of delicious, and now certified sustainable, Dungeness crab.”

About the certifier

Scientific Certification Systems was the certifier for this assessment. During the assessment, the three principles of the MSC standard were evaluated in detail: the status of the fish stock, the impact of the fishery on the marine ecosystem and the management system overseeing the fishery. More information about the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery and the complete Public Certification Report detailing the fishery’s passing scores against the MSC standard can be found on MSC’s web site at www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/certified.

More about Dungeness crab

ocean_harvest_crabpotsAdult Dungeness crab are found in coastal waters less the 40m deep on soft bottom sandy and muddy habitats. Despite a lack of physical barriers to movement adult crabs generally remain relatively sedentary and only migrate inshore to mate during spring and summer months.

Dungeness crabs (Cancer magister) are caught in circular steel traps commonly called 'pots'.  Dungeness crabs are kept alive in tanks until they are delivered to a shoreside processor.  The average boat fishes 300 to 500 pots, in depths ranging from 30 to 600 feet of water.

Individual Dungeness crab pots are set on open sand substrate and marked with a surface buoy. As they are not allowed to be linked in sequence (no longline configuration), there is little adverse physical effect of deployment and retrieval since pots are not dragged on the bottom or towed.

Dungeness crabs are primarily shipped live to world markets, with the United States being the major market.

Oregon's harvest for the 2009-2010 season was 23,195,059 pounds (10,521 metric tons).

Certified as sustainable on December 1st 2010.

Photos Courtesy of FV Harvester

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