Shell-Shocked: Growing Economic Impact of BC Crab Fishery Unveiled

Shell-Shocked: Growing Economic Impact of BC Crab Fishery Unveiled

Throughout British Columbia, Dungeness crab is a culturally-iconic seafood harvested by Indigenous peoples since time immemorial for food, social, and ceremonial purposes. Beginning in the late 1800s, the commercial crab fishery has since grown to be one of the most economically important fisheries in the province, providing livelihoods for 220 licensed vessels and over 800 harvesters. It has also been recognized in a recent report from DFO as one of the top fishery contributors to coastal communities based on the percentage of revenue that is returned to communities annually through ancillary support businesses (vessel repair and maintenance fuel, bait, groceries, monitoring etc).

Over recent years, the economic impact of the BC Dungeness crab fishing industry has rapidly expanded to the point that it accounts for nearly half of the wholesale value of British Columbia’s wild shellfish products, with nearly 10 million kilograms harvested (in 2021) at a value of $150.5 million. Nearly double the previous five-year average and 18% of the value of the province’s seafood exports that year. This also means that the BC crab fishery plays a major role in helping to support the province’s wild shellfish processing infrastructure and employment.

Over the years development of new trade relationships, especially with China has led to higher prices as demand for seafood has grown. However, our neighbours to the south, the United States still rank as the number one export market for BC-caught crab. Between them, China and the US account for around 99% of crab exports. Other export markets include Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands and Taiwan.

Prices have been steadily increasing over the past decade (more than doubling in price between 2010-2016) with a slight dip due to the COVID19 pandemic. Restaurants were forced to close, with shipping and supply chain issues also playing a role. The price has since started to recover with the 2021 price still being nearly double the 2010 price for Dungeness crab. 

This is all great news for the rural coastal communities in BC that depend on revenues returned from fisheries to help maintain coastal infrastructure, marine jobs and the supply sector that services the coast-wide commercial fishing fleet! 

This project is supported by the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program; delivered by MNP LLP with funding from the Government of British Columbia.

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