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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.

It is not just salmon

No doubt the salmon is a preferred seafood dish. But there is not just one type of salmon. Buying salmon can be quite complex when factoring in seasonality, catch areas, species, regulations and logistics.

From time to time we get an email inquiry asking for salmon. It goes something like this “we would like to import salmon, please quote us.” To the person asking it seems like a simple request. To the seafood trader at Smokey Bay it is akin to asking how long is a piece of string.

Some initial information is needed.

Would you like:

Fresh or Frozen salmon?

Farmed salmon or wild caught salmon?

What is the application? Further processing, foodservice or retail?

Head off gutted, fillet, or head on/dressed?

What species would you like?

For texture do you want more fat content, or firmer flesh?

Meat color, dark red, orange, pink, pale?

Are you wanting a seasonal/fresh program, or year round supply?

These questions will help guide identification.

No doubt the salmon is a preferred seafood dish. But there is not just one type of salmon. Buying salmon can be quite complex when factoring in seasonality, catch areas, species, regulations and logistics.

Though there are similarities between salmon species, there are five different types. With differences in size, flesh color, texture, taste, and application from canning, filleting or whole fish barbeque.

This link will take you to a handy reference guide on salmon species

https://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/rec/identify-identifier-eng.html

https://www.bcsalmon.ca/five-species

This link will take you to the typical type of information needed to quote you salmon:

(link to our quote sheet)

Types of salmon

Types of Fresh Salmon

King Salmon or Chinook Salmon

The king salmon is the biggest species of the salmon family, typically graded at 18 lbs per fish. It is has the richest amount of omega 3, it has delicious flavor, but is less pronounced that the sockeye salmon. Because of its fatty content, it has a rather luxurious texture, the meat color goes from white to pink or a deep red. Typically sold fresh.

  • Flesh Colour: Deep-red to ivory colour lightens slightly when cooked
  • Flavour: Rich and full
  • Texture: Moderately firm with larger flakes Flesh
  • Suggested Cooking Methods:
    • Bake
    • Broil
    • Grill
    • Poach

Sockeye Salmon

The Sockeye salmon typically graded 2 to 4lbs and 4 to 6lbs per HG fish has the richest flavor of the salmon’s family, and has the firmest texture, and most intense red color, and has a smaller flake than the king salmon. Typically sold frozen.

  • Flesh Colour: Deep red to orange red colour is maintained when cooked
  • Flavour: Rich and full
  • Texture: Firm with tighter flakes
  • Suggested Cooking Methods:
    • Bake
    • Broil
    • Grill
    • Poach

Coho Salmon

The coho salmon has bright red color in the meat and has a softer texture than the chinook, but has a rather similar flavor to the king salmon. Average commercial weight is 4 to 12 lbs. Typically sold fresh.

  • Flesh Colour: Vibrant reddish-orange colour is maintained when cooked
  • Flavour: Moderately full and versatile
  • Texture: Firm and fine textured
  • Suggested Cooking Methods:
    • Bake
    • Broil
    • Grill
    • Poach
    • Sauté

Pink Salmon

This salmon also known as humpbacks or humpies, because of the hump that they develop when they are spawning, is the smallest salmon of the wild species of the pacific, has a milder flavor than other salmon, and a softer texture with a small flake and a lower content of fats. Typically sold for canning, or bags for value retail.

  • Flesh Colour: Light rose-pink colour lightens slightly when cooked
  • Flavour: Mild and delicate
  • Texture: Softer
  • Suggested Cooking Methods:
    • Bake
    • Broil
    • Poach

Chum Salmon

This salmon is underated, and considered with Pinks as the lower grade salmon, for smoking, or value portions at retail or further processing such as for curry and chowder recipes.  Its average commercial size is about 8 lbs. 

Chum salmon is caught late season in the river or close to the mouth, and depending on its stage in annual upriver migration can get pretty beat up. Therefore depending on quality, chum’s price may be heavily discounted.

Its flavor is milder than the chinook and sockeye, and has less oils, making the meat texture softer than sockeye salmon or king salmon and meat color light pink or orange.

  • Flesh Colour: Reddish-pink. Becomes paler as fish migrates upstream
  • Flavour: Milder and more delicate
  • Texture: Firm and can be drier
  • Suggested Cooking Methods:
    • Bake
    • Broil
    • Grill
    • Poach
    • Sauté
    • Steam

Atlantic salmon

This salmon is the primary farmed fish species on both the Pacific and Atlantic Coast. It is one success story of the modern aquaculture techniques, the flavor is milder than the wild varieties of the pacific, the meat is fatty and oily but not as fatty than the Chinook salmon. the meat color varies depending of the amount of pigment of the feed, but normally goes from a rich orange color to a pinkish orange color, and has a large flake. Typically sold fresh.

  • Flesh Colour: from light pink to deep orange
  • Flavour: buttery and rich
  • Texture: moist and medium flake
  • Suggested Cooking Methods:
    • Bake
    • Broil
    • Grill
    • Poach
    • Sauté

The legend of Wountie, of the Squamish Nation

The legend of Wountie

A long time ago, even before the time of the flood, the Cheakamus River provided food for the Squamish people. Each year, at the end of summer, when the salmon came home to spawn, the people would cast their cedar root nets into the water and get enough fish for the winter to come.

One day, a man came to fish for food for his family for the winter. He looked into the river and found that many fish were coming home this year. He said thanks to the spirit of the fish, for giving themselves as food for his family, and cast his net into the river and waited. In time, he drew his nets in, and they were full of fish, enough for his family for the whole year. He packed these away into cedar bark baskets and prepared to go home.

But he looked into the river, and saw all those fish, and decided to cast his net again. And he did so, and it again filled with fish, which he threw onto the shore. A third time, he cast his net into the water and waited.

This time, when he pulled his net in, it was torn beyond repair by sticks, stumps and branches which filled the net. To his dismay, the fish on the shore and the fish in the cedar bark baskets were also sticks and branches. He had no fish; his nets were ruined.

It was then he looked up at the mountain, and saw Wountie, the spirit protecting the Cheakamus, who told him that he had broken the faith with the river and with nature, by taking more than he needed for himself and his family. And this was the consequence.

And to this day, high on the mountain overlooking the Cheakamus and Paradise Valley, is the image of Wountie, protecting the Cheakamus.

The fisherman? Well, his family went hungry and starved, a lesson for all the people in his family. (StoneE Producktions, s.f.)

The fisherman

Salmon has impacted the culture of many people. Like the connection between the Squamish, and the salmon. As this story teaches us the importance of having a sustainable relationship with nature, Smokey Bay follows this principle.

StoneE Producktions. (s.f.). Native Lore: The Legend of Wountie. Recuperado el 4 de November de 2020, de Native American Lore: Retrieved on November 4, 2020, from Native American Lore:

http://www.ilhawaii.net/~stony/lore15.html