ILWACO — For the first time in seven years, Washington commercial crab fishermen are preparing to pull pots during the first week of December.

The 73-hour pre-soak period, when commercial crabbers are first permitted to set gear, began at 8 a.m. Sunday. Commercial fishermen can begin pulling pots at 9 a.m. Wednesday, with the first official deliveries likely reaching local ports later in the day.

“We had nasty wind and chop the first day,” said Paul Blaylock Jr., who helped drop 500 pots aboard the F/V Amanda C on Sunday and Monday.

“But things calmed down [Monday]. We’ve had worse dump days.”

The last time the season officially started Dec. 1 was the 2014-15 season, but has been delayed in recent years due to price negotiations, low-meat yield or elevated levels of the marine toxin domoic acid.

Despite the start being delayed until mid-February, Washington commercial Dungeness crab fishermen caught around 15.7 million pounds during the 2019-20 season, the best total since 2016-17 (16.4 million) and exceeding seven out of the past eight years, according to figures from Pacific Fisheries Information Network. Commercial crabbers in 2019-20 delivered nearly 6 million more pounds of crab in Washington — a roughly 25% increase — compared to 2018-19. The majority was delivered to Washington coastal ports — nearly 8 million pounds, about 50% of the overall catch. North Puget Sound ports accounted for 3.8 million, with a $4.78 average price, about 24% of overall catch. Washington Columbia River ports had 2.4 million pounds with an average price of $3.51, accounting for 15% of the overall catch. Other or unknown Washington ports had 710,000 pounds, about 4% of the overall catch, with a $4.69 average.

Local crabbers are optimistic about a favorable opening price for the 2021-22 season, with speculation that it could start around $4.75, an increase from the $3.51 average Washington’s Columbia River ports received last season.

An official price was anticipated to be announced as early as Tuesday, with some buyers waiting to see the quality and quantity of the crab on Wednesday.

“We’re hoping to get a good price. We have our pots in the water and we don’t know what we’re getting yet — should be a good price,” Blaylock said.

The bulk of the season occurs the first few weeks, when up to 75% of the annual landings reach coastal ports. The first Dungeness crab of the season should be available in local stores and menus later this week.

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