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The Sustainability Status of Bay Area Wholesale Dungeness Crab Could Be Upgraded Thanks to Fishermen

An upgrade in sustainability could increase prices and sales of Dungeness crab, already hotly anticipated this year. Image source: Flickr CC user Bob n Renee

Dungeness crab season is almost upon us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and besides the news that the season will open on time, with no predicted domoic acid issues, there’s even more good news for the Dungeness this year. Currently listed as a yellow “Good Alternative” choice by Seafood Watch, the local seasonal specialty could be upgraded to the green “Best Choice” level due to the efforts of the Monterey Bay fishing community. This is exciting for the seafood industry as we head into the holiday season, typically the time most consumers associate with feasting on the beloved crustacean.

Dungeness crab season is almost upon us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and besides the news that the season will open on time, with no predicted domoic acid issues, there’s even more good news for the Dungeness this year. Currently listed as a yellow “Good Alternative” choice by Seafood Watch, the local seasonal specialty could be upgraded to the green “Best Choice” level due to the efforts of the Monterey Bay fishing community. This is exciting for the seafood industry as we head into the holiday season, typically the time most consumers associate with feasting on the beloved crustacean.

Why the Potential Change in Sustainability Status?

According to a joint press release from the Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, it is the crabbers themselves who are paving the way for the upgraded sustainability rating. The main reason for the downgraded status in the first place was whale entanglements in the lines to the crab pots. The crabbers have now begun coordinating with state and federal agencies and sharing a guide to their best practices to reduce these entanglements.

While some whale entanglement reduction efforts stem from changes in crabbing gear and increased response time when an entanglement is detected, one of the biggest changes comes from crabbers pledging not to set their pots in biologically rich areas that attract whales to come and feed. This voluntary “standing down” from areas that are especially rich in Dungeness crabs–but also rich in other marine life–will help prevent future whale entanglements. These crabbers recognize that while in the short term this backing off of biologically-rich areas might produce lower yields for them individually, it will ultimately ensure the sustainability of crab fishing and protect the marine environment as a whole.  

In addition to these gear changes and fishing location adjustments, there is also a bill currently on the floor of the state senateSenate Bill 1287 – The Whale Protection & Crab Gear Retrieval Act, which would provide a regulatory program that helps crabbers and other fishermen remove old, broken, or lost crabbing gear from the ocean. This bill is just another piece of the puzzle that can help see the Dungeness crab rating lifted to “Best Choice.”

What the Possible rating Elevation Means for Vendors

With an eager general public clamoring for Dungeness crab after a delayed season last year, an upgraded sustainability ranking will only enhance the per-pound value of Dungeness. If Seafood Watch recognizes the coordinated steps and practices by the crabbers as having a substantial reduction on current and future whale entanglements, it could choose to upgrade Dungeness crab’s status from yellow to green, making it a “Best Choice” for consumers. This in turn could lead to higher Dungeness sales across the board. We have certainly seen a change in consumer attitude— they want to enjoy their seafood while also protecting the environment— and they are willing to pay to ensure this happens! This raises the profitability of sustainable seafood for fishermen and seafood vendors alike—In a 2015 study, Nielsen found that 66% of consumers were willing to pay more for sustainable products.

With this potential change in sustainability status as well as the opening, on-time this year, of the commercial fishery, the stage is set for healthy Dungeness sales. Bay Area locals are eager to resume their annual crab feeds, holiday crab feasts, and everyday enjoyment of the region’s most beloved seasonal seafood. “My guests have been asking for months about when local Dungeness is coming back. They are really excited for the season to start,“ says August Schuchman, executive chef of San Francisco’s Woodhouse Fish Co. and West of Pecos. “It would be great to be able to tell them that it’s probably going to get upgraded by Seafood Watch soon as well.” 

Here at Pucci Foods we’re just as excited as your customers are for this year’s Dungeness crab season. Contact us to order wholesale Dungeness crab that’s as fresh and high-quality as any you’ll find in the Bay Area. And, we sell only sustainable, incredibly fresh seafood from our local green facilities.

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