ILWACO — On Thursday turbulent seas again got in the way of collecting Dungeness crab to see if they have at least 23 percent meat in the waters south of Klipsan Beach, a requirement before the region's commercial crabbers can start the 2018-19 season.
The crab season traditionally starts Dec. 1, but is often delayed. Last season, harvests didn't begin until Jan. 15, 2018. This season, early testing found crab slightly under 23 percent off the Long Beach Peninsula and substantially low in meat off southern Oregon. Delays have mounted as rough conditions keep a vessel contracted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from dumping pots — first on Dec. 22 and then on Dec. 26.
Today, Dec. 27, "Our test boat was unable to bring in crab … the plan now is to go back out early tomorrow to fish the test pots. I expect we will have pick out results sometime on Saturday," WDFW Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres said about 5 p.m. Thursday.
Based on a hope that Dec. 26 testing would succeed and find at least 23 percent meat, WDFW previously said its hope was to open the season at 9 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2019, with a 73-hour gear set beginning at 8 a.m. on Dec. 31. The agency warned last week that if testing wasn’t possible on Dec. 26, the Tri-State protocols prescribe a delay until Jan. 15.
Asked whether a Jan. 3 opening might still be possible if positive results come in Saturday, Ayres said Thursday evening that "We plan to talk to Oregon and California tomorrow to discuss that. It's just too late in the day to make that decision."
Crabbing grounds between Klipsan Beach and the Columbia River are among the richest on the West Coast. Particularly for Columbia River-based crabbers — many of whom have relatively small vessels — the opening of this area is economic life or death.