LONG BEACH — A Dec. 14 test by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife of Dungeness crab meat recovery and shell hardness turned up problems that have a potential to delay the season’s start beyond Dec. 31.
Crab on this part of the coast must have at least 23 percent recoverable meat and hard shells before officials allow the season to commence. Testing by WDFW on Dec. 4 obtained a meat result of 25 percent in six crab harvested at Long Beach Peninsula test locations, which would have been high enough to start crabbing, except that adjacent areas just south along the coast had not yet reached 23 percent.
A third round of local testing was requested by members of the coastal crab industry to confirm the 25 percent result. Instead, these tests on Dec. 14 showed a decrease to 21.8 percent.
The apparent reason for this decrease in meat recovery was the presence of a higher abundance of just barely legal-sized male crab, WDFW Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres said last week in an email update. Furthermore, these smaller male crab were almost all in an unmarketable soft-shell condition.
Under the Tri-State Agreement in which Washington, Oregon and California jointly manage the Dungeness crab fishery, a conference call meeting is planned this week to discuss the coast-wide meat recovery results. The most-recent Oregon and California test results will also be available for consideration, and managers will decide how to proceed.
The period around the holidays typically is a high of high demand for fresh crab, with another surge in consumer interest in the days leading up to Chinese New Year, which in 2018 is Feb. 16. Crab industry leaders often prefer a start later than the traditional Dec. 1 date, as crab quality tends to improve and demand drives up the price. However, boat crews and families can be left short of funds for Christmas celebrations.