Crab Fest under new leadership in Port Angeles

After 23 years organizing, directing and producing the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival, Scott Nagel is handing his cracker and mallet over to a new executive director and board.

“It’s time to pass it on to a new, younger group,” Nagel said.

The new entity stepping up to take over the festival consists of Rose Thompson, who will assume the role of executive director, and a three-member board that likely will expand to seven: Bella Italia owner Neil Conklin, Port Angeles; Marathon Race Director Victoria Jones; and Kokopelli Grill and Hook & Line Pub owner Michael McQuay.

The event will feature the same cracked crab dinners served in a big tent on the same weekend in October, but it will drop “Seafood” from its name. It is now just the Dungeness Crab Festival.

“We really wanted to bring the focus of the festival back to our local crabbing industry and this amazing product that is literally named after our waters,” said Thompson, an owner of the Fogtown Coffee Bar.

“We want to go back to that original mission to bring the world’s attention to this particular item, which is the Dungeness crab,” she said.

(Note to seafood lovers: it will still be available at the festival.)

One thing the group will not have to worry about is relocating the festival, which will take place at its usual footprint on the Port Angeles City Pier, the Port Angeles Harbor parking lot and The Gateway Plaza, with the dining tent next to the Red Lion Hotel.

Last year it was announced the entire festival likely would be moving to a different location on the waterfront due to construction of a new public plaza on the east side of the Red Lion.

The timeline for that project has been pushed back to 2025, said Donya Alward, Red Lion general manager.

The group also needed to register a new name with the Secretary of State and state Department of Commerce and for applying for recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Thompson said the board has been reaching out to current, previous and potential sponsors, as well as working on developing a more robust marketing campaign to promote the festival off the Peninsula.

“We’d love to bring in community partners that have been there in the past and new ones and think of ways that we can engage with them and deliver a better festival for our community,” she said.

They are rebranding the event, including a re-do of the website, and introducing a new logo this spring.

The deal to take ownership of the festival included the website, the existing social media platforms and some decorations, but no other assets, so the board has contributed funds to kickstart efforts for this year’s festival.

Thompson said the board wants to balance keeping the atmosphere that people love about the event while introducing new features and also fine-tuning other elements.

“We suspect that waiting in line has been an issue for visitors and that’s a top priority for us to resolve,” she said. “I would love to hear from people who have ideas or pressure points that they would like us to address,” she continued. “We don’t know what we don’t know, so the more information that we get, the better event we can put on.”

Nagel’s plans

Nagel said he isn’t entirely backing away from working and will continue organizing small festivals and events, like the Ocean Shores Razor Clam & Seafood Festival that takes place later this month.

Stepping away from one of the Olympic Peninsula’s most popular tourist draws is bittersweet, he said.

“I’m so excited that it continues, and I’m proud that it’s really one of Port Angeles’ signature events and the symbol of the Dungeness crab brings the entire community together,” Nagel said.

Two of the highlights of his time leading the festival, he said, were the participation of Graham Kerr, the star of “The Galloping Gourmet,” in the festival’s early years and the ongoing partnership with the Black Ball Ferry Line.

“He put us on the national map,” Nagel said of Kerr. “Bringing his encouragement, recognition and knowledge really helped us take off.”

Nagel credited Ryan Malane, the vice president and co-owner of Black Ball Ferry Line who died in 2022, with convincing people in Victoria to make an annual trip to Port Angeles to wear a bib and eat cracked crab.

“Ryan was brilliant,” Nagel said. “He had amazing campaigns to bring Canadians over. Upwards of 3,000 Canadians would come over every year, and they still do.”

The new Dungeness Crab Festival will continue the partnership with the Black Ball Ferry Line.

“They have such a savvy marketing team, and there’s a lot of opportunity there for us,” Thompson said.

Thompson said those who have already purchased a crab dinner for October needn’t worry.

“We will honor any crab dinners that were sold,” she said. “There will be a crab waiting for them.”