The commercial Dungeness crab season is delayed along the entire Pacific coast north of Point Arena, California until at least Dec. 16 after tests showed crab are too low in meat yield.
The fishery traditionally opens on Dec. 1, though in recent years it has usually been delayed — by everything from price negotiations to elevated levels of a marine toxin.
The season opener could be delayed even further, or the coast could be split into two areas with different opening dates, depending on the results of another round of crab quality testing slated to occur after Thanksgiving.
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 the Tri-State Agreement. Of the three, Washington was the only one to conduct optional early tests.
Washington fishery managers reported a meat rate recovery of 20.2 percent off the Long Beach Peninsula on Nov. 7, up from 19.9 percent on Oct. 24. Off Westport, a test on Nov. 5 found a meat percentage of 20.9, up from 20.2 percent on Oct. 27. In Oregon, tests found 18.2 percent off Clatsop Beach on Nov. 11 and 21.4 percent off Garibaldi. Percentages were better off the central Oregon coast, ranging from 22.2 in Newport North to 24.1 percent in Coos Bay North. Percentages were poor from Brookings to Eureka, ranging from 18.2 to 14.6.
All areas have to be at or above 23 percent before the season can open.
Crab also have been slow to harden this season. On Nov. 5 off Long Beach, 65.5 percent were grade II, which are not marketable; 26.8 percent were grade 1B and only 7.8 percent were the best grade 1A. Off Westport, 66.9 Percent of crab were still not marketable as of Nov. 5.
Domoic acid, a kind of marine toxin, has delayed previous crab openers. Long Beach Peninsula crab had no detectable domoic acid in tests on Oct. 24. Crab from the area between Grayland and Westport north of the mouth of Willapa Bay ranged from zero to 12 parts per million in testing between Oct. 26 and Nov. 7, well below the 30 ppm action level for crab viscera. Seattle news media incorrectly reported that domoic levels were a factor in the season’s delay.
Crab collected from some areas on the south Oregon coast were found to have domoic acid readings above the action level. As a result, recreational crab harvesting is closed from Cape Foulweather to Tahkenitch Creek, and from the north jetty of Coos Bay, including the Coos Bay estuary, to the California border.
For crabbers around the mouth of the Columbia, 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.”
“Whatever’s better for the commodity is best — which is letting the crab sit and grow,” said Crystal Adams, of Hallmark Fisheries in Charleston, Oregon 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 currently processing crab from California. 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 Nov. 15.
“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, which plays a major role in helping negotiate the opening price for crabbers in Washington and Oregon.