LONG BEACH — Dungeness crab in the Long Beach area are putting on meat at a slower rate than last year, possibly calling into question whether they will be ready for harvest by the traditional Dec. 1 start date.
Samples gathered by Oct. 24 in the Long Beach test area had a meat-recovery rate of 19.9 percent, compared to 23 percent from samples gathered by Oct. 30 last year. Samples from the Westport area collected on or before Oct. 27 had a recovery rate of 20.2 percent, compared to 22.9 percent last year.
A test conducted by the Quinault Indian Nation (off Westport and Point Grenville) on Oct. 17 had a pick-out rate of 16.5 percent, according to an Oct. 31 report by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
All areas must be at or above 23 percent before a season can commence under terms of the Tri-State protocol that governs crabbing in the waters of Washington, Oregon and California.
Even more problematic for a timely start to the season, Washington coast crab are slow to harden this year.
In Long Beach waters, 11.5 percent of sampled crab were in the highest 1A shell grade, compared to 47 percent at about the same time a year ago. Another 23.2 percent of Long Beach crab were in the next-best shell grade of 1B, compared to 27.3 percent last year.
Grade II crab are unmarketable, meaning there was some flex in both body and legs, and 65.3 percent of Long Beach crab were in that grade as of Oct. 24, compared to only 25.7 percent a year ago.
Off Westport as of Oct. 27, only 4.6 percent of crab were grade 1A, 15.3 percent were grade 1B and 80.1 percent were grade II, compared to 42.5, 44.4 and 13 percent last year.
No south Washington crab were in the poorest category of Grade III.
Recent seasons have faced delays due to the presence in crab meat of the marine toxin domoic acid, which crab ingest from shellfish and other things they eat. The best news from October 2017 test results is that no Long Beach crab had detectable levels of domoic. The six crab collected off Westport had low levels of 7, 6, 8, 1, less than 1 and 0 parts per million. Crab may be harvested if levels are 19 ppm or less.
Standard WDFW coastal Dungeness crab testing fishing protocol was followed to achieve the October results, except that due to poor weather the Long Beach gear soaked for 7 days. Crabs were collected from three stations at each area; strings of pots were set at 15, 30, and 45 fathoms at each station. All legal sized male crab caught were included in the meat recovery sample. While aboard the charter vessels, WDFW staff collected shell condition data from the same crab collected from all depths and stations.
Only WDFW exercised the option per the Tri-State Agreement with Oregon and California to conduct an October test. Oregon and California plan tests in November.
The first required round of testing per the Tri-State Agreement will be completed by mid-November. WDFW expects to include northern Washington test stations at that time.
Harvesting crab before they are at their best results in a lower price. This has a major impact on profits for the entire season, since around three-quarters of crab are caught in each season’s opening weeks.
Dungeness crab typically are the most valuable fishery in Washington and Oregon.