As the West Coast’s deadliest catch, Oregon Dungeness crab season 2009 is maintaining its status.
Despite calm, steady seas during the first week, casualties and mishaps have punctuated the first few days:
On Saturday, November 28, the first day crabbers were allowed to set their pots for “pre-soak”, the Terry F nearly rolled completely over, losing most of their pots on the Columbia River bar, creating a hazard to other vessels navigating the waters and necessitating a trip in to Ilwaco, WA to regroup.
Tuesday, Dec. 1, the 38′ F/V Manatee broke up on the Southern Oregon coast while crossing the bar into Coos Bay. Neither of these incidents resulted in loss of life.
Thursday, Dec. 3 around 1 p.m., a deckhand abard the fishing vessel Ballad, a 56′ aluminum crabber/longliner out of Warrenton, Oregon, was pulled overboard after becoming snagged in line attached to a pot. The line was wrapped in the boat’s propeller and swiftly pulled both the man and approx. 100 lb. crab pot into the propeller beneath the boat.
Astoria, Ilwaco and North Bend Coast Guard helicopters, boats and Clatsop County rescue crews eventually located the 32-year-old man and retrieved his body. Weather at the time was calm and visibility good.
Most of the fishing vessels on our list were lost during “crab season” which runs from Dec. 1 through late Summer, although the first few weeks are always the most critical.
Often rough weather and heavy surf contribute, punishing the smaller boats and challenging the larger ones. Knowledge of equipment and the elements is vital to survival let alone success in this industry.
Adding to the risk is the stacks and stacks of heavy crab pots loaded onto the decks in order to get them out and "fishing" as early as possible. Each pot weighs in the neighborhood of 100 lb. and loads of 100-300 are not unheard of.
Fish holds or "tanks" are flooded with water to facilitate keeping the crustaceans alive until they can be delivered to the canneries, and this adds another element to the delicate balance of vessel stability.
Additionally, thick, fast-moving lines, hydraulic equipment, sharp tools and heavy gear all contribute to this dangerous way of life.