It’s a cornucopia of American favorites: a morning of parades and preparations; an afternoon of feasting and football; an evening for neighbors and loved ones to come together with grateful hearts, lifting full glasses to the bounty of another season. Whether it’s the perfectly roasted turkey, a gaggle of cousins at the kiddie table, or your own variation on Aunt Bertie’s green bean casserole, each of us has a recipe for what makes up this quintessential holiday – and for more than 1,500 households in the Columbia-Pacific, until you throw in several hundred fully loaded, regulation commercial crab pots, it just isn’t Thanksgiving.
This weekend, while the rest of us sleep off the holiday meal tryptophan or brave long lines for the promise of a bargain, members of the commercial fishing fleets from both Oregon and Washington will engage in another longstanding holiday tradition – the annual race to finalize the mountain of gear they’ll need when they take to the seas and test their luck in the frigid waters that nourish our coast’s most beloved crustacean, the Dungeness crab.
“The start of the season is always exciting,” says John Edwards, life-long fisherman and co-owner of Linda Brand Crab and Seafood in Chinook, Wash. “We’ve been putting pots together for weeks now, and you can be sure that everyone will make the push to be ready for the opening.”
The coastal commercial Dungeness crab fisheries in both states enjoy a traditional Dec. 1 start date, but boats can begin “soaking” their gear as early as Nov. 28, when they’ll each deploy between 300 and 500 circular steel traps or “pots” per vessel, laying a plan for the catch. (This year, however, the opening of the ocean commercial Dungeness crab season will be delayed at least through Dec. 15 in order to allow crab quality to improve. Recreational harvest will open Dec. 1 as scheduled.)
In the earliest days of the season, when crab are at their most plentiful, the fishing at its most competitive. Of the total annual harvest, 50 percent will occur in the first three weeks of the nine-month season, with 75 percent caught and sold by New Year’s Day, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Seafood Watch, a division of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Clearly, if you’re in the crabbing business, it pays to be on the water early and often.
“Everyone wants fresh crab for the holidays,” says Patricia “Ruby” Edwards, “so demand is high. In an area that can really use the money, it comes at just the right time.” As the other half of Linda Brand Crab and Seafood, she’s a woman who knows her arthropods. “In our business, what we’re most concerned with is quality, not quantity,” she adds. “We want to offer the very best product, harvested using the most sustainable practices, from only our local fishermen.”
For almost 15 years, Linda Brand Crab and Seafood, a seafood collective, has gathered, processed and direct marketed not only local crab but also fish and shellfish. In addition to its storefront in Chinook, Wash., the company sells its wares at seven different farmers markets in and around the Portland area, as well as in the city’s selective New Season’s Market, where the grocer’s website boasts Linda Brand as, “the freshest, best-tasting crab out there!” High praise indeed when the total harvest from local waters alone averages upwards of 10 million pounds of prized Dungeness.
Since crab landings are naturally cyclical and fluctuate in response to ocean variables like temperature, food availability and currents, highs and lows are expected. But by all indications, the health of the industry is strong. To keep it that way, the states of Washington, Oregon and California all use a 3-S management system – a 100-year-old method touted by some as the most successful example of fishery sustainability in the nation. By setting regulations for size (crab must be wider than 6 1/4 inches), sex (all female crab must be released), and season (there’s a closure during the primary molting period), the fishery assures its continued survival. To a coastline that depends on it as the backbone of a winter economy, that’s very good news; for a resident population of lip-smacking, crab-loving, Dungeness devotees, it’s even better.
And in a world that’s turned a sharp and sudden focus on how we source our food, this regional delectable combines the best of all things: It’s fresh, it’s sustainable, it’s amazingly tasty, and as the folks at Linda Brand remind us, “It just couldn’t get any more local.”
So this holiday season, if you’re feeling crabby, be grateful. Around here, you’re in excellent company, and you’re just in time.
For more information, visit www.lindabrandcrab.com