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About Coast river business journal. (Astoria, OR) 2006-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 12, 2020)
COAST RIVER BUSINESS JOURNAL
FEBRUARy 2020 • 7
“We have recorded a total of 2,878,131
pounds of Dungeness crab,” reported
WDFW Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan
Ayres in late January.
“In the same time frame last season we
had landings of 6,266,621 pounds.”
Calls for change in fishery
Concerns about poor salmon returns
and the impact of ocean acidification has
prompted calls for change in fishery man-
agement from local processors.
“We need our fish opportunities back,”
said Antich. “It’s dangerous to be heavily
reliant on one fishery and any businesses
reliant on salmon are dwindling away.”
In January 2018 South Bend Prod-
ucts acquired a processing facility in Chi-
nook, formerly owned by Bell Buoy Crab.
The facility provided more access to the
Dungeness crab fishery and curbed ship-
ping costs. The facility processes crab year
Employees vary at each location in Chi-
nook and South Bend, depending on the
season and the availability of fish. During
peak production at the Chinook facility,
up to 150 employees may be processing
Dungeness crab, but right now it’s about
At the facility in South Bend, the crew
can swell up to 100 employees, varying
with the success of commercial fishing
seasons. Summer is the busiest time with
salmon, Antich said.
The impact of ocean acidification on
young crabs has been a focus of scien-
tific research, but the lack of salmon —
the backbone of the processing facility in
South Bend — has been Antich’s biggest
“There was an article out last week
talking about the ocean acidification affect-
ing the juvenile crab,” Antich said. “I don’t
know that we’re seeing the impact of that
today, but if it’s true and we see reduced
recruits and the biomass weakening. If
we’re only reliant on crab we’re going to
be in trouble. We need salmon. We need a
well-rounded and diverse fishery because
you never know when something is going
to fail, like the chum salmon in 2019. The
absolute lack of chum in Puget Sound —
we typically buy millions of pounds out
of there but this year we didn’t pack more
than a truckload. It’s just that bad.”
Regulatory issues have an oversized
impact on Columbia River and Willapa
Bay fishermen, Antich said.
“Our Willapa watershed is so restricted
with the fishing opportunities and amount
of fish being raised, same with the Colum-
bia River,” he said. “These opportunities
are lost. With less opportunity there’s less
F/V Cutting Edge crew member Christopher Hinojosa offloads crab Sunday, Feb. 2. at Ilwaco Landing.
Dungeness crab are offloaded Sunday, Feb. 2. at Ilwaco Landing. The season has been rocky for fish-
ermen who have endured rough seas and an uncertain market.
effort and interest in fishing. The tradition
of passing it down in the family is gone.
The young guys aren’t starting in any of the
Ramping up hatchery
Some feel re-focusing on hatcheries
could remedy the current lack of salmon.
“We need to get the hatcheries open to
produce more fish, so people can make
a living at this again,” said South Bend
Products Facility Manager Allan Heather.
“Without the salmon and the sport indus-
try, it kills all these communities along the
coast. They depend on that money. And
when they only get a few days to fish, they
don’t hire people and a lot of them just
The fallout from less robust sport and
commercial fisheries is evident in coastal
communities, Antich said.
“Look at what’s happened to Westport,
the town has just died from a lack of tour-
ists. The hotels and charter offices are no
Antich and Heather agree that raising
more hatchery fish could be part of the
“They (fishery managers) want to make
everything wild and natural, but without
spawning at the hatcheries it’s not going to
happen,” Heather said.
“There are no more natural fish. They’re
gone. The only thing left is genetically
modified fish from interbreeding.”
Brave new world for local
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, dozens of workers
draped in plastic aprons, gloves and hair-
nets worked in unison picking and pack-
ing Dungeness crab at the Chinook facility.
What appeared to a full staff, however, was
only a fraction of the former crew.
On one side, workers picked meat from
the claws and body of the crab, while oth-
ers in a separate section filled and sealed
5-pound cans of crabmeat.
“We produce crab meat five days a week
52 weeks a year,” Antich said. “We buy as
much crab as we can at the peak of the
season when they’re in prime condition,
during the first month or month and a half.
We have the frozen sections in cold storage,
thaw it and pick crab meat year-around.”
The product is then primarily distrib-
uted on the West Coast to bigger markets
in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Crab picking, or shaking, requires fast
and steady hands, and pay often depends
on how proficient each picker is.
“We can usually tell within a week if
they’re going to make it,” Antich said.
“It’s piece work. You’ve got to meet a cer-
tain amount of product to achieve a mini-
mum-wage level. It’s priced per pound and
if they’re not making minimum wage — if
it’s costing us money — then they’re not
qualified for the job. A good crab shaker
can produce more than 160 pounds in a
7-hour shift. The top shakers can make $30
Less available product has translated
into fewer employees and smaller pay-
checks for local processors and their
employees. In the past, processing facili-
ties would hum 24-hours during peak fish-
ing seasons and workers would come in
waves and work in shifts. Today, a skele-
ton of the former crew still exists, a frac-
tion of the former workforce. Now in prime
Dungeness fishing season, there sometimes
isn’t enough product to keep what workers
remain busy for a full day.
“They would start at 6 a.m. and were
done before 8 a.m. for days,” Antich said.
“They weren’t even reaching the first cof-
fee break. It’s a sad thing to see because
we’ve grown accustomed to this business
model. We’ve been able to manage the
Chinook facility this year with less staff
because of the inconsistencies with live
crab. We’re not running 24-hours as would
be a normal crab season. We’ve been man-
aging it with one shift all season. It’s about
50 fewer employees.”
Rising costs, shrinking margins
The dependability of salmon and crab
has dwindled as operating costs for local
seafood processing facilities have risen.
“It’s labor and higher operating costs
from the plant side to higher bait costs on
the fishermen’s side,” Antich said. “It’s
higher operating costs, no matter if you’re
a fisherman or a processor.”