Pandemic economy contributes to record Southeast Dungeness crab prices

Dungeness crab. (Angela Denning/KFSK)

Southeast Alaska’s Dungeness crab fetched record breaking prices this summer. The size of the harvest was close to average, but the value of the crab was exceptional.

Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab season ended up being worth $13 million. That’s about double the $7.52 million average over the last decade.

The summer fishery brought in just over 3.09 million pounds of Dungeness crab. That’s slightly above the ten year average but well below last year’s near-record harvest of 5.87 million, which was the second highest harvest ever recorded.

Still, the average price paid for Dungeness crab this summer was a record breaker at $4.21 per pound.

“That’s a record high price for the fishery,” said Joe Stratman, who oversees the fishery as Southeast’s lead crab biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

He says this year’s fishery was worth about $3 million more than last year’s, which brought in $9.96 million.

“Crabs last year were purchased at a much lower price of $1.70 a pound,” Stratman said. “So, price this year was more than double.”

The 10-year average is $2.70 per pound.

“This summer, in terms of total value and average price, it vastly exceeds the recent 10-year average,” he said.

“It sort of took a lot of people by surprise,” said Dan Lesh who tracks fishery prices for the McKinley Research Group.

He says they’ve seen record prices for Alaska’s crab species since last fall.

“One of the explanations is just that people actually had more disposable income because they were spending less on services during the pandemic and were looking for ways to spend it,” Lesh said. “And seafood, especially premium seafood, seemed to hit that target really well — what people were looking to spend their money on.”

Overall, seafood sales at retail have been up over 30% during the pandemic, Lesh says.

The Dungeness summer season ran two months, from mid-June to mid-August. The strength of the fishery during the first week has set the stage for the whole season. It showed enough crab to hold a full season through the fall and winter. That calculated out to an estimated full-season harvest of 4.23 million pounds, which is slightly above the ten year average.

205 permit holders fished this summer in Southeast. Smaller boats can participate in the Dungeness fishery, unlike Tanner or king crab that requires larger boats.

Stratman says it’s a unique fishery that people can get started in.

“It’s truly like an entry level fishery,” Stratman said. “There’s everything from small skiffs to plus 60-foot boats participating in the fishery. So there’s a lot of permit holders, a lot of deckhands, and there’s also a big shore side component to it, too, processing Dungeness. It’s an important fishery in the region.”

The areas with the highest harvest in Southeast included District 8 near Petersburg and Wrangell, which brought in 680,000 pounds. That area also saw the most fishermen participating with 69 permit holders. District 11, which includes Stephens Passage near Juneau had 650,000 pounds and 40 permits participating. And District 10, which includes Frederick Sound saw the third highest harvest at 459,000 pounds and 41 permit holders participating.

The fall season for Dungeness crab opens on Oct. 1. Most of the region will close on Nov. 30.

KFSK - Petersburg

KFSK is our partner station in Petersburg. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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