The commercial Dungeness crab season is delayed along the entire Oregon Coast until at least Dec. 16 after tests showed crabs are too low in meat yield.
The fishery traditionally opens on Dec. 1, though in recent years it has been delayed by everything from price negotiations to elevated levels of marine toxins.
The season opener could be delayed even further, or the Oregon Coast could be split into two areas with different opening dates, depending on the results of a second round of crab quality testing slated to occur later this month or in early December.
“Whatever’s better for the commodity is best — which is letting the crab sit and grow,” said Crystal Adams, of Hallmark Fisheries in Charleston and a processor representative on the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
“It’s hard for the families that work here and the fishermen that fish on the crab because they rely on that for the holiday season,” she said. “But to continue to have this for years to come, it’s whatever’s good for industry.”
The company is processing crab from California later this week. After several years of bad luck and curtailed seasons, the Dungeness season opened in California south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line as scheduled on Wednesday.
“So we’re still doing crab, just not from our own area,” Adams said.
Last season, commercial crabbers landed more than 20.4 million pounds of crab into Oregon for an average price of $3.08 per pound. The opener for that season was also delayed, but saw the highest ex-vessel value at $62.7 million, according to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Crab quality testing for this season began in November, with Washington state opting to do early testing in October. Washington, Oregon and California manage the Dungeness fisheries together under a tri-state agreement. Of the three, Washington was the only one to conduct optional early tests.
While Washington fishery managers reported a meat rate recovery of 20 percent off the Long Beach Peninsula, elsewhere some percentages were lower. Off the Oregon Coast, meat recovery percents were mostly under 23 percent, with 18 percent in Astoria and Brookings. Coos Bay came in with a 24 percent meat recovery.
All areas have to be at or above 23 percent before the season can open.
For Oregon fishermen, the delay was not a surprise given the test results, but now there’s not much for many to do except wait for the results of the next round of tests and Dec. 16 to arrive.
“There’s lots to do on the boats, but right now we’re done,” said Brian Boudreau, a commercial crabber based in Clatsop County. “We’re pretty much done and ready to go.”
Unsafe levels of the marine toxin domoic acid have shut down recreational and commercial harvest of crab in bays and estuaries, beaches, docks, piers and jetties from Cape Foulweather to Tahkenitch Creek, and from Coos Bay’s north jetty to the California border.
Commercial harvest of Dungeness in Oregon’s bays that are still open will close on Dec. 1, but will reopen with the ocean commercial fishery. Recreational harvest of the crabs in the ocean will open Dec. 1 as scheduled where there are no health advisories from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.