Oregon Dungeness crab gets upgrade

Oregon Dungeness crab receives sustainable certification
Marine Stewardship Council certification should boost sales
Oregon Department of Agriculture

An historically productive Oregon fishery has achieved an even higher level of status, which should translate into stronger sales regionally, domestically, and internationally. The Oregon Dungeness crab industry is now certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), globally recognizing the nearly $45 million fishery as a well-managed resource, a distinction that is expected to increase sales to environmentally-conscious consumers.

“For a long time, we’ve viewed Dungeness crab as a shining star among our important Oregon fisheries, but now the industry has achieved a milestone the rest of the world can appreciate, ” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Oregon is a leader in sustainable resource management. This MSC certification is just the latest example of our status.”

ODA oversees Oregon commodity commissions. The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission did the work of documenting the fishery as well-managed. The certification allows Oregon Dungeness crab to be sold as a sustainable premium product.

“We feel good because the certification simply substantiates what we and a lot of other people have known all along,” says Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “This is a well-managed, sustainably-harvested, environmentally-neutral fishery that just happens to also produce a wonderful gourmet product.”

MSC runs the world’s leading independent certification program for sustainable fisheries. An assessment of the fishery took seven years, but the final certification announced last week allows Oregon Dungeness crab to be sold using the coveted MSC eco-label for sustainable fishing. That’s something other West Coast states and Canada cannot do.

“This sets the Oregon Dungeness brand apart from all other Dungeness in the marketplace,” says Furman. “It provides opportunities in the region, the rest of the United States, and in the export market.”

There is a growing trend in the retail, food service, and restaurant trade to offer for sale product coming from sustainable fisheries that have been certified by a third party using a science-based process. As more consumers demand sustainably-harvested seafood, fisheries that can prove their harvest and management practices meet high standards will be more successful. In fact, some purchasers have committed to selling only certified seafood to consumers by a certain date.

“The next step is creating consumer awareness and demand for the Oregon Dungeness brand,” says Furman. “In other words, we want the consumer to recognize what the blue and white MSC eco-label means on a package of fish or a can of crab, and that they are looking and asking for it.”

The objective of MSC is to promote fisheries certified as sustainable using a market-driven approach that leverages the eco-label on certified fish products. By educating consumers about the plight of fishing stocks in the world, MSC hopes that consumers will reward sustainable fisheries by choosing seafood originating from certified sustainable fisheries.

The MSC certification process focuses on three principles- health of the fish stock, management of the fishery, and the effects of the fishery on the ecosystem. A number of performance measures have been developed with individual scoring guidelines. Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery and the fishermen who harvest the resource have scored high enough to be certified as sustainable.

“The Oregon Dungeness crab fishery has demonstrated that they are a model fishery in terms of environmental sustainability and working hard to maintain and improve the overall health of the fishery,” says Kerry Coughlin, regional director for MSC Americas. “They have accomplished significant improvements already and have committed to even more progress as part of their MSC certification. We are pleased to have this important fishery in the MSC program and are confident consumers will welcome this source of delicious, and now certified sustainable, Dungeness crab.”

The Oregon Dungeness crab fishery has 425 limited entry license holders fishing primarily within 10 miles of the Oregon coast. Fishing occurs between December and mid-August, with most of the harvest taking place during the first eight weeks of the commercial fishing season. Oregon Dungeness crab is a state managed fishery, regulated by size, sex, and season, and with only males meeting a minimum size standard harvested. Under-sized males and all females are returned to the water unharmed.

“Oregon has been harvesting Dungeness crab for over a century, and we have demonstrated a very sustainable fishery,” says Furman. “Landings this past decade have been off the charts and nature continues to provide us with healthy stocks. But to attain the MSC certification, we made some modifications and conducted some additional scientific research to prove our sustainability.”

While consumers continue to enjoy an affordable supply of high-quality Oregon Dungeness crab, coastal communities enjoy the economic shot-in-the-arm the fishery provides. The MSC certification can only help.

“We have the good fortune of living on a part of the globe where we have a very healthy ocean with good stocks and fishery management,” says Furman. “This certification counteracts the ‘sky is falling’ mentality that some people may have about what is happening to our oceans. As far as Oregon Dungeness crab is concerned, the economic activity provides a dividend back to the state and to our coastal communities, and does not come at the price of the environment.”

Dungeness crab becomes the second Oregon fishery to attain MSC certification, following Oregon’s pink shrimp fishery achieved in 2007.

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