Commercial Dungeness crab fishermen in Oregon and southwest Washington state may not get out on the water at all this year after recent testing shows crabs are still too low in meat yield.
Fishery managers with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the fishery opener will be delayed until at least Dec. 31. Half of the areas where crab was tested still do not meet the criteria for opening. The fishery had already been delayed until Dec. 16 after a first round of tests in November found the meat yield was low.
Delaying the opener will give the crabs more time to plump up.
The fishery traditionally opens Dec. 1, but in some years has not opened until January. Delayed openers are not unexpected, but are difficult for crab fishermen and seafood processors to plan around, industry leaders say. When crabbers finally get on the water, they are not sure what they will find.
“We saw OK volume in our testing work but it’s not really designed to be an abundance survey,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “With crab you don’t really know until you get out there.”
Besides Oregon, the delay also applies to parts of California and Washington state that fall under the tri-state agreement that allows the states to manage the commercial Dungeness fishery on the ocean together.
Ongoing testing will determine whether or not the season will open Dec. 31. It’s possible the season could be further delayed or be split into two areas with different opening dates. Commercial harvest of Dungeness crab is closed in Oregon bays for the rest of the year. Elevated levels of the marine toxin domoic acid are the only thing affecting recreational crabbing closures in some areas of the coast.
Last year, commercial crabbers landed 20.4 million pounds of crab — well above the 10-year average — into Oregon with a record ex-vessel value of $62.7 million. Dungeness crab remains the state’s most valuable fishery. In Washington state, commercial crabbers landed 16.4 million pounds last year.