LONG BEACH — Dungeness crabbers will get their earliest season start in seven years. Coast-wide meat recovery tests have been good, and levels of the marine toxin domoic acid are low in Pacific Northwest waters ahead of the 2021-22 season.
Based on these results, the Tri-State Dungeness Crab Committee agreed to open the commercial Dungeness crab season in the area between Klipsan Beach — including Willapa Bay — and Point Arena, California at 9 a.m. Dec. 1, with a 73-hour gear set beginning at 8 a.m. on Nov. 28. Hold inspections will be conducted beginning at noon Nov. 30.
Samples gathered Nov. 13 in the south of Klipsan area had a pick-out rate of 25.1% compared to a slightly sub-par 22.4% in the optional early testing round on Oct. 31. A test harvest on Oct. 31 in Westport waters found 26.8% meat. Sampling between Nov. 12-15 in Oregon and Northern California also satisfied the opening rules established by Tri-State Dungeness Crab pre-season protocols. These require minimum meat recovery of 23% north of Cascade Head near Lincoln City, Oregon, and 24% south of Cascade Head.
Crab in Clatsop County waters came closest to missing the required meat percentage, coming in at just 23% on Nov. 12. Crab from around Garibaldi in Tillamook County were at 25% on Nov. 13.
Crab can accumulate toxic domoic acid in their viscera — internal organs — in the process of eating clams and other filter-feeders. The toxin builds up less slowly in crab meat, but health officials keep tabs on the viscera level since people from some cultures eat that part of crab. This year, clams have little domoic in their systems and tests find even less in crab — fewer than 2 parts per million in Nov. 18 samples gathered between the Columbia River and California. The safety threshold is 30 parts per million.
Dec. 1 is the traditional opening date for commercial crabbing, but is often delayed due to low meat recovery, domoic acid, price negotiations and other factors. Earlier this year, the 2020-21 season got off to the latest start ever, with first deliveries to processors on Feb. 16 because of persistent domoic contamination.
Washington’s most productive commercial Dungeness crab area from Klipsan Beach south to the Columbia has opened on Dec. 1 only seven times in the past two decades, most recently for the 2014-15 season.
Before that, there was a run of five Dec. 1 starts 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 second-latest start: 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.
Dungeness crab are the most valuable fishery in Washington and Oregon, with many local families dependent on the winter crab harvest for things like mortgage and pickup payments, and Christmas gifts. Money generated by crabbing boosts many other parts of the local economy.
There are 228 Washington coastal commercial Dungeness crab license holders employing about 200 crabbers, according to WDFW data from earlier this year.