As I was getting ready to write this blog entry, I decided to look back at some of my old posts to see what I’ve covered so far. I’ve written about the Dungeness crab management system, current issues facing the fishery, and the commercial fishery season opening process. On multiple occasions, I have emphasized the ecological and economic importance of crab, and the complexities of West Coast crab management. But I realized that my previous posts do nothing to highlight some of the aspects of Dungeness crab that I find the most important and interesting, the long history of cultural and social significance of this crustacean in Oregon and along the West Coast.
In my last post, I wrote that “Every December, palpable excitement fills the Oregon coast as residents anticipate the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season. To many on the coast, Dungeness crab is at the center of holiday and family celebrations at this time of year.” In fact, this excitement continues well beyond the start of the season and throughout the year.
Visitors to the coast will quickly realize that the seafood industry and working waterfronts are an integral part of Oregon coastal communities that serve to sustain local cultural heritage and connect the community to the environment (Kellner, 2009). The crab industry, in particular, is on display in many Oregon port cities contributing to the popularity of these locations for tourists that are looking for an authentic glimpse at the history and character of the community.
The critical symbolic importance of Dungeness crab to coastal tribes, fishers, consumers, and environmentalists can be seen through the diversity of social and cultural activities that center on the species. For many, recreational crabbing is considered a must-do activity that features heavily in Oregon travel guides, tour packages, and has even been described in several how-to guidebooks dedicated solely to the sport. Additionally, all along the coast and throughout much of Oregon, crab is featured heavily at seafood festivals, crab feeds, and other community events.
While digging into the history of Oregon coast crab feeds and festivals, one of my favorite pieces of Newport history that I found was a collection of photos from the Lincoln County Historical Society’s archive of the Newport Crab Festival which first took place in 1938. In its day, this festival would draw 25,000 visitors to Newport for a free crab lunch and other festivities including a festival court, parade, and prizes (Russell, 2013). This event, the precursor to the present-day Newport Seafood & Wine Festival, is an example of the long history of coupling the abundance of crab on the coast with a desire for community support and coastal tourism.
The iconic status of Dungeness crab which has been known to many throughout history, was formally recognized on June 19, 2009 when Dungeness crab joined the Chinook salmon, Douglas fir, and American beaver as a state symbol of Oregon. With the strong support of fourth graders from Sunset Primary School in West Linn, House Joint Resolution 37 was passed designating Dungeness crab as the official crustacean of the State of Oregon (Oregon Legislative Assembly, 2009). Among other factors, the resolution recognizes the economic value, symbolic importance, sustainable management, and overall deliciousness of Dungeness crab.
It’s exciting getting to live in a community that is so closely tied to Dungeness crab, while working to address some of the issues that are critical for the fishery. In my next post, I will dive deeper into the whale entanglement issue and the steps being taken in Oregon and along the West Coast to address this challenge!
Keller, A. A., Simon, V., Chan, F., Wakefield, W. W., Clarke, M. E., Barth, J. A. Kamikawa, D. et al. 2010. Demersal fish and invertebrate biomass in relation to an offshore hypoxic zone along the US West Coast. Fisheries Oceanography, 19(1): 76–87.
Oregon Legislative Assembly. 2009. 75th Oregon Legislative Assembly 2009 summary of legislation. Legislative Administration Committee Services, 214 pp. Available at https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/lpro/summleg/2009SummaryOfLegislation.pdf
Russell, V. 2013. A looking back at the Newport Crab Festival 1949. Coast Explorer Magazine. Available at https://www.coastexplorermagazine.com/features/looking-back-newport-crab-festival-1949