NEWS / FEATURES

Certifiably Crazy for Crab

Chef Cory Schreiber prepares one of the many dishes presented to guests at the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission dinner. Photo by Rick Schafer.

By Kerry Newberry

Oregon Dungeness Crab, deemed the “meal the gods intended only for the pure in palate” by chef and food writer James Beard is not only undeniably delectable, but now certified sustainable.

The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission (ODCC) recently announced it has received the highest sustainability honor for the state’s crab fishery. Joining an elite group of fisheries around the world, Oregon Dungeness crab products can now go into the marketplace with the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) distinctive blue and white logo. This global recognition gives consumers the confidence that the Oregon crab industry is committed to harvesting crabs in the most environmentally friendly manner.

 “Oregon Dungeness Crab has always been synonymous with quality and flavor and now consumers have one more reason to love our local crabs,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the ODCC. “Our crab stocks are robust and our harvested methods contribute to sustainability and take into consideration the overall health and well being of our coastal waters.”

Oregon Dungeness Crab is regulated by size, sex and season, with only males meeting a minimum-size requirement. Smaller males and females are returned to the water. Oregon’s strict targeted harvesting results in little or no “by-catch” mortality. To further manage the marine environment, the state placed a system of “limited entry” in the Dungeness fishery in 1996 — with the backing of the commercial crab fleet — and in 2006, the state enforced a pot limit to reduce the number in the ocean by 50,000.

These self-imposed fishery regulations, along with other efforts, garnered recognition from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, Audubon Guide to Seafood and the Natural Resources Defense Council Guide. These publications are produced to help seafood buyers make environmentally sound purchasing decisions. To accredit those claims, the ODCC initiated the MSC certification process.

MSC is a global, independent organization that has developed the world’s leading environmental standard for certifying sustainable and well-managed wild-capture fisheries. The program goals include reversing the global decline of fish stocks, minimizing impact and bolstering marine conservation and safeguarding fishery-related livelihoods.

The certification process is rigorous and rooted in science. The seven-year evaluation for the ODCC included assessment of the region’s crab stock, the effect of the fishery on the health of the ocean environment and the efficacy of the fishery management system.

Oregon Dungeness Crab fishery is one of only three crab fisheries in the world to receive MSC certification, and the only one of five West Coast Dungeness fisheries with the sustainability certification.

To recognize the ODCC’s great accomplishment, more than one hundred crab lovers gathered on Dec. 15 at the Heathman in downtown Portland for a celebration dinner. Fishermen, politicos, media, winemakers and chefs enjoyed a four-course meal paired with Oregon Certified Sustainable Wines (OCSW).

As Furman hosted the evening, he spotlighted longtime Oregon Dungeness Crab supporters in the dining room, including cookbook author Janie Hibler, who published “Dungeness Crab and Blackberry Cobbler: The Northwest Heritage Cookbook” in 2004; and Al Pazar, a crab fisherman out of Newport.

“As a matter of fact,” said Furman, “when I talked to Al at 4:30 this afternoon he was off the coast of Newport in 40 knot winds and big seas and trying to make it back so he could come up to this dinner tonight.” Furman recognized Pazar as a huge supporter of the MSC initiative. “As the process took time, it was people like Al that said to keep staying the course,” he added.

The wines paired with the four courses were all donated by OCSW-certified wineries, including Bethel Heights 2009 Pinot Blanc Estate, a Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2008 Chardonnay Author, Penner-Ash 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Adelsheim 2008 Deglacé of Pinot Noir.

“The common denominator that they have with one another and that they have with Oregon Dungeness Crab tonight is a commitment to certified sustainability,” Furman said.

Pat Dudley from Bethel Heights represented for the Willamette Valley wineries that donated wines for the evening. “We recognize how hard it is to get to where you are, and we congratulate you for having achieved this,” she said. “I wish we could say our whole fishery was already certified. We’re at 32 percent and counting on certified acres of vineyard land, and we are not going to stop until our whole fleet is enrolled,” she said with enthusiasm.

Three James Beard Award-winning chefs orchestrated the dinner: Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place, Cory Schreiber of Wildwood Restaurant and Philippe Boulot from the Heathman. The Portland chefs created three distinct and divine crab-infused dishes. “Like dessert, I saved the best for last,” said Furman as the three chefs joined him at the front of the room.

“Oregon Dungeness Crab doesn’t have three better friends than the people standing next to me,” he said of the chefs. “We’ve had the privilege of working with them for over a decade now. The three of them have truly put Oregon Dungeness Crab on the culinary map, all over the country and, in some cases, around the world.

“We couldn’t have achieved what we did with this product without the culinary talents of these three guys, the three tenors of Oregon Dungeness Crab.”

Charged with the main course, Paley created a dish that was the talk of the tables.

“We decided to go with something else that we are really passionate about here in the Northwest,” he explained. “And that is grass-fed cattle.”

Paley has been working with Cory Carman of Carman Ranch outside the Wallowas. The 21-day-old dry-aged ribeye was roasted on the hay from the same farm where the beef is grazed. “I call this kind of a circle of nature technique,” said Paley. “Roasted slow, then seared and served topped with Oregon Dungeness Crab and fresh Oregon black truffles. This is truly a native plate.”

Crab was the star in the Oregon Dungeness Crab salad from Schreiber and in the second winter-warming course by Boulot: Oregon Dungeness Crab and matsutake mushroom shepherd’s pie.

Before presenting the official certificate to the ODCC, Kerry Coughlin, regional director for MSC Americas stated: “It is truly exciting to have Oregon Dungeness Crab become an MSC-certified fishery. Though I do have a personal bias; I find Oregon Dungeness crab to be one of the sweetest, most delectable seafoods in the world. I’ve always loved it.”

Coughlin explained that since the MSC began the certification program ten years ago, it’s experienced a period of tremendous and rapid growth and uptake in the program.

With MSC certification, Oregon Dungeness Crab joined over 103 fisheries around the world. “We have 7000 product lines that now bear the MSC label in 66 countries,” Coughlin said. “The commercial commitments are growing tremendously; and there is just tremendous participation around the globe in sustainable fishing.”

The credit and the hard work is from the fisherman, the processors and the industry people, Coughlin explained. “It’s everyone whose coming together saying we want to preserve this resource — give us a way to measure that, give us a way to do that.

“This is the most inspiring event I’ve attended all year. To be in a room with people that have heart and commitment and have made this happen, I want to thank all of you for allowing us (MSC) to be a vehicle and a part of that. I am very honored to present this certificate to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.”

Kerry Newberry is a Pinot-sipping, vineyard-hopping wine and food writer. She resides in Portland.

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