We’re so proud of the phrase “The Dungeness Crab Capital of the World”, that we made it a registered trademark of the city in 2007! In fact, so much Dungeness crab is harvested and processed locally that it’s a vital part of our economy and a big part of Newport’s identity. The Port of Newport hosts the largest commercial fishing fleet on the Oregon Coast, and many of our local fishers have been harvesting record numbers of crab for decades. Not only is commercially harvested crab processed and shipped all over the world, but it’s also readily available everywhere in Newport.
Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus Magister) is by far the most commercially important crab in the Pacific Northwest and helps drive the economy in Newport and along the Oregon Coast. Commercial Fishing makes up about 15% of the economy for Newport and surrounding Lincoln County, and income generated from Dungeness crab is more than 40% of the total value of all locally harvested seafood. Although the slightly sweet, buttery Dungeness crab meat has been a Pacific Northwest delicacy for over 150 years, this local crustacean was a prized food staple for coastal native tribes for thousands of years before that.
Crabbing is hard work, and it’s dangerous. During crabbing season, Newport fishers must brave the rough and potentially deadly waves and extreme weather to harvest crab by passing through the Yaquina Bay Jetty, an area known as “the bar”. The Yaquina Bay bar is an invisible horizontal barrier, where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet with the much shallower waters coming from the mouth of the Yaquina River, causing extremely perilous conditions for boats leaving and returning to the bay.
Out in the Pacific Ocean, beyond the Yaquina Bay bar, fishers must work along the edge of the coastline, where jagged, unforeseen rocks and severe and rapidly changing weather create some of the most hazardous crabbing conditions in the world. In 2016, The Discovery Channel chronicled the lives of Newport’s commercial crabbers working in the often-life-threatening environment in the reality series, Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove. Crabbers must also collaborate to establish a set price for their harvest before the season starts so they can make a living wage while also offering an affordable price to consumers.
All commercial crabbing in Oregon is overseen by the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, which has been in place since 1977 to ensure that our Dungeness crab is sustainably and scientifically regulated and promoted. The annual harvest season begins after December 1st, and runs until mid-August, with plenty of off-season time for the crab to fill out and maximize growth. All female crab are released during the harvest so that they may continue to mate and produce more crab. In addition, only mature crab that measures greater than six and a quarter inches across the back of the shell is kept, and smaller males are released back into the ocean.
Such an abundance of crab is harvested locally that residents and visitors alike are able to enjoy Dungeness crab in many local restaurants, purchase crab from area fish markets, and even buy fresh crab right off the docks. The next time you’re in Newport, make sure to order Dungeness crab fresh in the shell or in a variety of dishes that are available in our restaurants or buy fresh crab to eat at home. We’re positive that you’ll love it as much as we do!
Photo Credit Out West Photography based in Newport.