PENINSULA - After much debate and a ten-day delay, the Dungeness crab season has finally opened on the Pacific Ocean from central California to the Canadian border - though not without some final controversy.

As of late last week, local processors, including Sunrise Seafoods and Jesse's Ilwaco Fish Co., were offering $1.60 per pound to Peninsula crabbers to get them to set their pots and start bringing in the bounty of crab available this year.

That figure was discarded, however, when crabbers from Westport could not secure higher prices and decided to set their gear and sell crab for $1.40 per pound, setting a price across the coast from all processors including the largest company on the coast, Pacific Seafoods. This price is 35 cents less per pound than the fishermen had originally sought and held out for, and 20 cents less per pound than what local crabbers had been promised prior to setting out before the weekend.

Processors, after agreeing to a lower dollar figure in the past, have traditionally upped the price quickly as the season progresses if there is sufficient consumer demand - although last year was an exception. The price paid to fishermen remained at between $1.65 and $2 per pound for most of the year.

Retail marketers warn that the weak economy could be tough for crab sales, often considered a luxury item.

"With a market that never materialized last year, and a weaker, softer economy (this year), and more tonnage, we're very concerned about packing away inventory on a market that we can't build on." said Tim Horgan, vice president of Pacific Seafood Group in Portland.

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