What is Dungeness Bay Crab?

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For over a dozen years Smokey Bay Seafood has been exporting crab from the Pacific Northwest. The crab we source comes from both the USA and Canada as the fishing area crosses the international boundary. The body of water, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca are shared by both countries. Differences in crab is not its nationality. But the marine environment from which it is harvested.

This blog post aims to give some general background on the Dungeness crab industry in our region and the key factors Smokey Bay considers when packing and shipping Dungeness crab.

The first thing we consider is whether the crab was caught in a sheltered coastal waters, such as a bay or an inlet such as Puget Sound or if it is ocean crab harvested in the open water off the continental coastline such as the West Coast of Vancouver Island, or the Oregon coast. If the crab comes from an area that is more sheltered, there tends to have more nutrients in the water and the crab is hardier, harder shell with more meat content. If the crab comes from a more open ocean environment, it tends to have a softer shell and less meat fill. These are general rules of thumb, there are exceptions. Typically, Ocean Dungeness crab is more for domestic sales, and has a cheaper price point than Bay Dungeness crab. Bay crab tends to go for export markets at a premium price. In addition to be sold live Ocean crab is often cooked and frozen then sold either whole or in sections.

Smokey Bay Dungy Crab Anacortes (4)

The Smokey Bay crab packing plant in Anacortes Washington focuses primarily on live Bay crab for its customers. Some export markets call our type of Dungeness purple or black crab as opposed to the term white or yellow crab for the open Ocean variety.

Dungeness crab are trapped in a baited box cage that allows the crab to come in but not get out. The Crab Fisher drop their trap to the ocean floor and attaches a rope and float to identify and retrieve it later. Cages can be left for a day or a few days. The bait used varies – octopus, squid, mink carcasses, butter clams or fish heads. Smokey Bay Seafood sells crab bait to fishermen and the choice of bait is a subjective choice for the crabber depending on success they’ve had with previous types of bait in the location that they are fishing.

In order for a crab to be legally harvested, it must weigh more than one and a half pounds. The size grade for crab is typically three categories. One and a half to 2-pound crab (standard 1.7-pound average), 2 pound up crab (large 2.2-pound average), and ocean run crab. The standard crab is the usual size for domestic sales, the large crab is typically exported, and ocean run crab is a mix of sizes, and typically sold to local retail or traded with other crab Packers. A Dungeness crab is seldom over 2.7 pounds.

The Dungeness crab business is divided into live crab, and frozen whole cooked crab or sections. Smokey Bay business is live crab. The industry itself is divided into commercial and tribal harvest. Smokey Bay works with both the commercial and tribal Dungeness crab fishery. All Dungeness crab is Wild caught there is no aquaculture for crab.

Smokey Bay Dungy Crab Anacortes (3)

The market price for live Dungeness crab varies weekly. It’s a volatile market especially recently as the governmental management of the fishery has frequent openings and closings, which can radically affect supply from week to week. Price for live dungeon crab can vary throughout the year from as low as $6.50 a pound to as high as $13 a pound based on minimum order of 675 pounds.

The Crab Fisherman empties his crab traps into large totes, which are then offloaded at our crab packing facility and promptly put in wet storage tanks filled with clean ocean water. We are lucky in that we are able to use clean ocean water rather than reconstituted marine water. This is because our facility is on a pier above the ocean water. There are also crab packers located further inland that use salt and water mix to hold their crab. Regardless of the water source, all water is constantly circulated in the tanks and kept clean by a mix of filtration and UV light, filtration can be made from a medium of sand, charcoal, and even oyster shell.

Once our crab is received at the plant, it is banded with elastic rubber bands around their claws, to prevent them from being aggressive with their cohorts. It also serves to keep the quality of the crab and claw intact. The Crab is held in tanks circulating ocean water and can be kept in good condition for a few weeks if necessary. But is usually just held for a few days prior to shipping.

Then 24 hours prior to shipping the water is reduced in temperature to 2°C. This is the initial stage to prepare the crab for transport and air shipment. As the crabs body temperature is reduced it goes into a dormant/sleep state. Crab is held in the cold water tanks right up until an hour or so from departure of the packing plant. Then the banded crab is removed from the tank and put into Styrofoam cases by hand stacked into rows claws up, 45 pounds per case (20.4 Kg per case), newsprint and gel packs are then placed on the crab. The lid is sealed, and a hole is made in the lid of the case where oxygen is pumped in using a hose and scuba tank.

Smokey Bay Dungy Crab Anacortes (7)

Oxygen is pumped in the case and the hole is sealed with a thick sticker. The Styrofoam cases of crab are promptly loaded onto the delivery truck for a 3-hour journey to either Vancouver International Airport YVR or Seattle Tacoma International Airport SEA. The Dungeness crab arrives at the airport in the evening for overnight or early morning flights departing to Texas (DFW, AUS, MSY), Singapore SIN, Taiwan TPE, Vietnam SGN HAN, Toronto YYZ.

Typical order size range in the 15 to 30 x 45 pounds case range. We have capacity to pack up to 70 x 45 pounds cases each day. Our customers pick up crab at the destination airport’s air cargo facility the following morning. The transit time for our crab is kept to under 24 hours. Once our crab is received, it is either distributed directly to food service or retailers, some have wet storage tanks to hold the live crab for distribution throughout the week. Mortality is kept to a minimum. However, an allowable loss of up to 5% is an acceptable industry standard. Though in most instances this seldom is needed.

Smokey Bay, reputation for quality crab has kept us in good shape with our customers over the past 15 years. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Having your ducks in a row: Seafood Supply Chains

From rural remote to dense and urban, the seafood we sell is shepherded along with critical control points prone to mishaps. Sounds complicated? Well it is.

Our company, Smokey Bay Seafood, has to cast its fishing line further than the sea to get live shellfish from the ocean bed to the dining table. From rural remote to dense and urban, the seafood we sell is shepherded along with critical control points prone to mishaps. Sounds complicated? Well it is.

Picture in your mind’s eye a remote sand bar off the Coast of Vancouver Island, and a person with a rake and shovel sifting for clams or picking oysters on a foggy winter morning, or a crabber handling a winch on an aluminum skiff on choppy seas in Puget Sound. Then imagine sitting at a table at the Hotel de l’Opera in Hanoi. Vietnam or Casa Carmela in Valencia, Spain, a bowl of steamed clams or some cracked crab claw placed in front of you.

One might ask ‘how did it get here; how did I get here?’ but one rarely does. Usually we are too hungry or occupied to think about the steps undertaken for the privilege of dining on seafood from our Pacific Coast. Personally I rather focus on the journey from the plate to my mouth.

A google search on the origin of the term ‘having one’s ducks in a row’ reveals a multitude of possible origins. From shipbuilding, to bowling alley, from Mother Nature to Carnivals, having one’s ducks in a row is a term that applies beyond these origins. Evidently having one’s ducks in a row means things have to line up in order to flow, to be right.

The first step in the seafood supply chain involves no fuel, no line, no fish, it is purely digital and legal. Determining if the raw material, the fish or shellfish itself, is permitted for the purposes intended for. I do not in this case mean IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated), something discussed in previous blog posts. Rather I mean is the stage the fish at in compliance for the next stage in the value chain.
For example in Washington State a Shellfish Harvester is not permitted to sell directly to an exporter, distributor, or retailer unless they are, as in Smokey Bay’s case, a licensed shellfish shipper or shellfish packer on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) interstate shellfish list.

Another example is Dungeness crab for export markets, no matter how fresh, how good, how alive and wholesome the crab is, it cannot be exported to China unless it is packed in a plant approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While for countries such as Singapore, and Taiwan a State registered plant is sufficient.

THE DUCKS

First DuckTherefore, the first duck is to know your regulatory requirements. The source, logistics and customer can all be aligned but if it doesn’t meet the requirements of either the local or the export country then nothing can be done.

The second duck is the terms of sale and financing considerations. Where and when is the seafood and the money exchanging hands? This will depend on where you are situated in the value chain. For Smokey Bay it depends on what type of seafood – live, fresh or frozen, where it is going – USA, EU, UK, Asia, Canada.

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For example live manila clams CIF Europe (Cost, insurance, freight) are prepaid 72 hours prior to shipping from Vancouver. Live crab is CIF Vietnam prepaid 72 hours prior to shipping. Fresh oyster meat to Toronto is different with a free on board (FOB) Vancouver payment in 21 days Live Dungeness crab is cost and freight to Los Angeles on a 7-day payment. And frozen Albacore Loins are FOB Vancouver payment 30 days.

For less than truckload shipments, LTL, no financing is generally needed, for truck loads or ocean containers a letter of credit, or an escrow account might be needed. Export development financing and insurance especially when shipment values are quarter of a million dollars or more. An amount easily hit with a 40 foot ocean container of Smokey Bay black cod, or frozen scallops on the half shell.

Once you determine the regulatory space, and terms of sale, the next step is the logistics process. Moving from the seafood packing plant to the buyer. Often the fish will be bought and sold one more time before getting to the wholesaler or retailer.

So the third duck is usually driving a truck, flying a plane or perched on ocean container cargo ship. For logistics the main considerations are departure schedules, cut off times, transit time, temperature control, and costs. You might also need to consider customs clearance. Whether to use air cargo or land transport is a decision based on a few more factors such as transit distance, quantity shipped, and the needs and capabilities of the customer. Ocean freight is used for frozen seafood, generally further afield and can be a technical and financial exercise to arrange.

The fourth duck is quality control and customer satisfaction. For Smokey Bay our customers are both producers and distributors. Quality control starts at harvest, and is again monitored and managed at the packing plant. Quality in paperwork and logistics is the surest way to avoid snags, along with the quality control at receiving.

Thankfully concepts of quality control have evolved from being an upstream endeavor. Traditionally preventive controls (HACCP) and quality management programs (QMP) were tracked up to the point your company was situated in the value chain and no further. For example, once the fish was sold down the line, it was thought of no more.

The final duck, considers the quality of the business we are selling the seafood too. If the customer is purchasing seafood from us to resell, then they themselves need to have proper cold storage equipment, and procedures in place to ensure quality and prevent spoilage. To have a quality product you need quality businesses supporting you up and down the line.

It’s a lot of ducks to line up, but with them lined up the seafood flows.

Depth of the Sea: Fishing in the Deep Sea

The European Academies Science Advisory Council warned of the “dire consequences” for marine ecosystems and against the “misleading narrative” that deep-sea mining is necessary for metals required to meet the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The deep ocean is generally defined as the depth at which light begins to dwindle, typically around 200 meters (656 feet).

Picture a parched desert, where for kilometers around there is mostly nothing growing, every few hundred meters an edible vegetable plant blooms, fragile and rare. While beside the desert is a natural garden where vegetables, and fruits grow in abundance.

I believe most of us would feel a bit guilty, sad or bad knowing we were eating a salad made from an ecological rare desert vegetable when the option is there to eat juicy tomatoes and arugula without devastating the garden from which it was grown.

I like using land based analogies for making a point about oceans. Humans are land based creatures after all, so it is a relatable way to get a message across. The deep ocean is like a desert, it is not that productive, normal processes of growth of sea life is very slow. The sea life at great depth lives naturally a very long time, some live up to 150 years or more. Annual growth rates for deep ocean biomass is usually less than 1 per cent. Fish live in complete darkness with no sunlight to help accelerate growth.

“The deep sea is the world’s worst place to catch fish” says marine ecologist Dr. Elliott Norse, founder of the Marine Conservation Institute in Bellevue, Washington USA. “Deep-sea fishes are especially vulnerable because they can’t repopulate quickly after being overfished.

This summer the deep sea has received more notoriety than usual because of the demise of the OceanGate submersible Titan. By now the cause for implosion of the ill-fated sub has been well combed over with the verdict being a nonchalance for safety by its creator and captain combined the jerrybuilt of its structure and controls. Basically it was a combination of mindset and material that directly led to the sub’s and crew’s tragic end.

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When considering any activity at great ocean depth you need your head screwed on straight and serious investment in infrastructure to reduce risks. But the sparseness of deep sea fisheries make such investments costly given the return on such investments. This fact offers perfect segue into another land based analogy – mining.

“With slow-growing fish, there’s economic incentive to kill them all and reinvest the money elsewhere to get a higher return-on-investment. Killing off life in the deep sea one place after another isn’t good for our oceans or economies. Boom-and-bust fisheries are more like mining than fishing,” Dr. Norse said.

Last month July 2023 deep sea fishing and mining interests collided. Ireland and Sweden joined ten other countries calling for moratorium on extraction of metals from seabeds as a UN-backed authority prepared for crucial talks.

I find this debate interesting personally because prior to entering the seafood business I worked in mineral exploration for the world’s largest gold mining Placer Dome company with mining operations in ecologically sensitive areas all over the world. This mining company which at the time seemed as permanent as granite dissipated in 2006.

Last month, the European Academies Science Advisory Council warned of the “dire consequences” for marine ecosystems and against the “misleading narrative” that deep-sea mining is necessary for metals required to meet the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Environmental considerations aside, mining is an expensive endeavor especially if you are doing it deep underwater. The economic incentive for competitive extraction is questionable. To be competitive at today’s gold prices which are approaching an all time high you would need to keep your cost of extraction to below $890 an ounce.

I doubt you can do that safely at ocean depth. If we use the cost to be a passenger on the Ocean Gate sub as a yardstick for a pricing model that indicates its true costs, $250,000 per person for what was to be an 8 hour tour. In this case even more investment would have been needed for success.

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I can’t see any resource activity at deep ocean justified either environmentally or economically. As for tourism I need to do more research. But personally I think visiting the Titanic for entertainment a bit crass. It’s a graveyard and some reverence is needed there, as for the creatures of the ocean deep.

Though some of the fish we sell come from the ocean deep such as black cod (150 to 300 meter). We are sourcing within a managed quota based fishery operating for decades.

Albacore (300 to 400-meter depth) is arguably a deep water fish. However, these are not ecological sensitive zones and the stocks replenish with a life span of 12 years. In contrast Orange Roughy, a popular seafood our company avoids, lives for over 200 years (1500-meter depth) and was thankfully delisted by Canada’s largest retail chain Loblaw’s. I would feel terrible eating any fish or animal that has a centuries long life span.

Smokey Bay Seafood avoids selling fish harvested from fragile environments. All the seafood we sell can be traced to its source. The seafood we sell is from regional, coastal, small scale fisheries on both Pacific and Atlantic Coasts: Dungeness crab, Pacific oysters, manila clams, wild sea scallop, sea urchin and whelk for instance. All this seafood comes from ocean depths and regions abundant as the garden I mentioned in the introduction to this blog post.

Regenerative Fisheries – Moving Beyond Sustainable Seafood

Imagine if the fish you ate was produced in a way that actually improved the environment, not just sustained it. But actually brought it back to a healthier and more abundant state than it was for previous generations.

For the last quarter century, the seafood industry, its regulators, NGOs and conservation groups have been striving to get both consumers and producers on board with sustainability.

If looked at globally the results have been mixed, while some fisheries have achieved the goal – the Dungeness crab fishery, Alaskan Wild Salmon, farm shellfish such as live oysters and manila clams – others have not – pollock, haddock, anchovy, Canadian wild salmon, swordfish, Atlantic Cod. Some seafood businesses are standard-bearers for sustainability others fail to see the point. It has been a mixed bag with regard to the adoption of sustainable practices and inculcating sustainability in corporate and consumer consciousness.

Now I’m happy to report that sustainability is soon to be considered irrelevant. Irrelevant?! Yes as a means of gauging environmental health of the marine ecosystem. Because it’s not enough. Sustain what? Sustain an industry with diminishing supply, sustain an unpredictable supply, sustain confusing marine biologist and decision makers setting fishery policy. It’s time for us to do better and to move beyond sustainability into a mode of regenerative practices.

WHAT ARE REGENERATIVE PRACTICES?

Imagine if the fish you ate was produced in a way that actually improved the environment, not just sustained it. But actually brought it back to a healthier and more abundant state than it was for previous generations.

We now have the knowledge to consider a regenerative marine policy. Regenerative marine aquaculture has been on policy makers and producers’ radars for the past few years. There are many articles referencing discoveries and existing practices to promote regenerating the environment around fish farms as part of their operation. For example, polyculture is when you have different fish and shellfish species being grown at different levels in the water column in symbiosis to create a thriving single ecosystem.

However, what I am referring to is beyond aquaculture. A larger scale is needed, a regional wild marine ecology and the fisheries that are managed over a wider geography. An easy example are oyster reefs both on the Pacific and Atlantic coast that actually provide so many benefits to the marine environment beyond just sustainable oyster harvesting.

How can we broaden regeneration from a controlled environment to a wider ocean geography?
Sustainability puts the onus on the fisherman, aqua culturists and scientist to figure it out. By broadening the stakeholder base from fishing enterprises to all groups in a watershed, improvements will be seen rather than a stasis.

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For regenerative fishery policy more participants are needed but the economic benefits go beyond those whose activity is on the water. In Oregon regenerative land based ranching is improving the wild salmon run and has radically improved the livelihood of cattle ranchers, I found this article interesting “How Regenerative Ranching Can Help Save Salmon“.

The wild salmon industry in BC would be better served if they ditched sustainability for regenerative, as it would require bringing more industry, stakeholders and participants to the table to help solve the crisis. I know this sounds like a big task, but consensus based models for setting land policy exist we can learn from them in developing regenerative practices for our marine industries. I will discuss consensus based approached to developing healthy regenerative policy and practices that move beyond sustainability with greater benefits to all in my next blog post.

Thank you for learning more about ‘regenerative’ as the new catch word for improving our ocean environment.

What is sustainable seafood?

In order to answer that question, we should first define sustainability. The term ‘sustainable’ is commonly and loosely used to define practices that don’t degrade the physical and natural environment to the point that it diminishes its longevity.

Longevity is the key word. As first defined in 1986 by the United Nations Environmental Program UNEP in the Brundltand Report, ‘sustainable’ is to maintain a resource and its natural environment for future generations. There is an inter-generational component that is key to understanding its implications on fisheries, aquaculture, and shoreline protection.


IS THE SEAFOOD THAT WE SELL, OR THAT WE EAT SUSTAINABLE?

Can we be sure that what we’re consuming today will be there for future generations to enjoy?

The short answer is ‘no’ we cannot be certain. The ocean is vast and our climate environment Is rapidly influencing ocean currents, coastal and upland geomorphology to a degree that fish harvested with the utmost attention to sustainability, may be being degraded due to economic activity hundreds of kilometers upstream from its source. As with the connection of forestry practices on wild pacific salmon populations.

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If we were to look at California Market Squid, once abundant and now a rarity. Was this due to wreckless overfishing? Or the change in ocean currents that have pushed warmer water farther north and the squid along with it. A dwindling squid population in SoCal, that are now living happily in abundance off the Pacific coast of Canada.

I would’ve given the market squid my sustainable stamp of approval 25 years ago when I started in the seafood sourcing business. It lasted for several generations and sustained communities all up and down the California coast for a hundred years. There was ample scientific data and a coordination between government and fishermen, and we thought we had its sustainable harvest dialed. Yet in 2018 Smokey Bay Seafood shut down its office located at the historic Signal Place squid dock in San Pedro, CA and relocated to Washington State.

Signal Place was a large iconic looking fish packing warehouse. It headquartered the dirty dozen for nearly 80 years (The dirty dozen is slang name given to 12 founding California fishing companies that set up shop in Monterey Bay, then eventually Ventura and San Pedro, over 100 years ago). It was a sad day when our company left that building. We were one of the last companies to vacate that historic site that house fishing power housed such as Tomich Brothers, Standard Fisheries, J Deluca, Star Fisheries to name a few. Our small trading company Smokey Bay Seafood USA, Inc. a dwindling shadow of the greatness that once was there.

So all this above being said, I certainly hope the seafood we sell is sustainable. We do the necessary steps to make sure our products meet the environmental and sustainable standards that our customers would want and expect. These steps include traceability, monitoring, preventive control, and verification.

California Market Squid

Smokey Bay Seafood uses a mix of these systems – traceability, monitoring, preventive control, and verification – along with the procedures specified in our MSC license (Marine Stewardship Council certification), as well as cross-referencing with the Ocean Wise Monthly updated lists. This is in addition to our SFCR (Safe Food for Canadians license), our FDA Interstate shellfish shippers license WA-1559, as well as our Canadian Food inspection agency CFIA ECP export control program, and ICP import control program. These are the main ones. But they are even more permits and licenses in play to make sure the seafood we sell is considered sustainable.

Yet, unless you actually know the person that caught the fish all the paperwork in the world can’t give you certainty. You have to see for yourself.

As a source seafood trading firm, Smokey Bay Seafood team buyers have the opportunity to meet our suppliers at source. Many are seafood producers who have been operating for several generations. Furthermore, all suppliers must sign off on an SQA that confirms their commitment to sustainable practices and the systems mentioned above.

This is the first blog post of a five-part series that will explore the definition, the reach, and the future of sustainability of the seafood we sell and other renewable resources related to it.