Dungeness crab tests off the Oregon coast last week showed promise for a Dec. 1 commercial crabbing season start.

Crab in the water near Astoria, Coos Bay and Long Beach, Wash., already have enough meat in them to be harvested, according to Mitch Vance, shellfish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"The crab are looking pretty good for October," said Vance, who will be proceeding with a second test next week in places where the crab meat content didn't measure up.

A formal announcement on the season start date is likely still a couple weeks away.

North of Cascade Head, near Garibaldi, crab meat must make up at least 23 percent of a male crab's weight before the commercial crabbing season can begin. That figure is called the "pick-out rate." South of Cascade Head, the pick-out rate must be at least 25 percent.

Last week's tests pulled crab from Astoria, Newport, Coos Bay, Port Orford and Brookings. Newport tests showed a 22.9 percent pick-out rate; in Port Orford it was 23.8 percent; and Brookings crabs registered 22.3 percent.

Coos Bay was close enough, with a rate of 24.5 percent, that ODFW biologists won't have to retest there.

Tests by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife showed Long Beach, Wash., was on par with Astoria at 23.1 percent, but Westport showed a low pick-out rate of 20.8 percent.

At each Oregon port, ODFW set out 36 pots to harvest legal, male crab. The crab were delivered to processors for meat extraction. Washington, Oregon and California officials collectively make the call to open the Dungeness crab season for the tri-state area, but fishing in some areas can be delayed to prevent harvest of low-quality crab.

In 2004 and 2005, crabbing seasons on the North Coast were postponed by two and four weeks respectively for quality concerns.

But just because the crab are ready for harvest doesn't mean fishermen will decide to drop their pots. Price negotiations between fishermen and processors have also played a role in season delays, keeping crab pots out of the water even after fishery managers give the go-ahead. This year's price negotiations are due to begin in mid-November.

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