Crabbing delay extended

With pre-season preparations at a standstill, stacks of crab pots accumulate at local ports.

ILWACO — With tests finding persistently high levels of marine toxin in Cape Disappointment crab, commercial Dungeness crabbers face the longest delay in history, likely until at least Jan. 31.

Dungeness crab Tri-State policy representatives announced Jan. 8 that, “While we anticipate the delay of the Washington fishery to be through the end of the month, a specific opening date will depend on the results of Washington domoic acid tests of crab in the area south of Klipsan. Actual sampling collection dates are unknown, as we do our best to work around ongoing poor ocean conditions that have hampered sample collection.”

The delay means financial hardship for many families that rely on the hefty paychecks earned early each crab season. It also increases the risk of missing lucrative Chinese New Year celebrations, which center on Feb. 12 this year and at which crab are a treasured menu item.

Samples taken on Dec. 28 discovered domoic acid toxin at levels of up to 46 parts per million in the guts of crab collected near the south end of the peninsula. Federal rules require levels of no more than 30 ppm before commercial harvest can begin.

The continuing closure applies from Cape Falcon, Oregon, north to the U.S.-Canada border. Crabbers south of Cape Falcon were on a price strike, but went to sea last week after processors raised their offer from $2.50 a pound to $2.75.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said Jan. 8 that it has looked into whether harvested crab might be sold with their contaminated guts removed, but has concluded that isn’t an option under current state law.

“WDFW has been working with WDOH, Washington Department of Agriculture and ODFW to discuss the requirements and enforceability of an opening under a mandatory evisceration requirement should that action be necessary,” the agency said. “We agree that without some rule changes that must be made by the Washington Legislature, evisceration is not currently an option in Washington.”

Washington’s most lucrative commercial Dungeness crab area from Klipsan Beach south to the Columbia has opened on its traditional Dec. 1 date in only seven of the past 20 years, most recently for the 2014-15 season.

Before that, there was a run of five Dec. 1 start dates from the 2006-07 season through the 2010-11 season. The season also started Dec. 1 for the 2003-04 season. The 2017-18 season had the latest start until now: Jan. 15, 2018. The 2018-19 season got underway on Jan. 4, and the first crab of the 2019-20 season were delivered at the Port of Peninsula on Dec. 31, 2019 and at the Port of Ilwaco on Jan. 2.

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