In Civil Eats: Pacific Seafood Controls the Dungeness Crab Market, but Small Crabbers Are Fighting Back

Date: 12 Jul 2023 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail
Small fishermen in the Pacific Northwest are taking a stand against Pacific Seafood, the dominant West Coast crab processor, alleging that the corporation’s immense power is driving down prices and manipulating the industry in its favor. In a new article in Civil Eats, ILSR’s Ron Knox details how the fishermen claim that Pacific Seafood, which buys half of all Dungeness crabs sold in the region, uses its influence to delay the season and control prices, impacting the livelihoods of small businesses and the coastal communities that rely on them. A recent class-action lawsuit seeks to break up the company and reduce the control of powerful fishing corporations over industry regulations, reigniting the fight against consolidation in the seafood industry.

“In the Pacific Northwest, Dungeness crab, the region’s prized crustacean, fills boiling pots in homes and restaurants from the earliest holiday parties to New Year’s revelries, and through Chinese New Year. For coastal communities there, it’s the saltwater version of a honey-glazed ham, a holiday staple most folks want plucked alive from the water and served fresh.

This year, however, those live and fresh crabs weren’t available, because fishermen weren’t allowed on the water in time to deliver them for the holidays. While the delay happened in part for some legitimate ecological reasons, including the size of the crabs and the presence of water-borne toxins, the environmental issues might be masking something else. Small crab fishermen who make a living catching and selling live crabs say that one corporation’s outsized power is also to blame. And not just for the weeks-late start.

After a blockbuster 2022 crabbing season that saw an on-time, December 1 start date and record prices for fishermen, this year’s crab season didn’t kick off until mid-January after three regulatory delays. When the season did begin, crabbers were offered as little as $2 per pound for their catch, a price that left many struggling to pay staff and buy fuel and bait. Those conditions have squeezed the small businesses that make up the West Coast crabbing industry and act as the backbone for small towns up and down the shoreline.”

Read the full article here.

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Ron Knox is the Senior Researcher and Writer for ILSR's Independent Business Initiative.