Washington crab ready to harvest, but season delayed

Crab gear is ready to go in local ports, but crab have been slow to reach legally required meat percentages in some areas of Oregon and Northern California.

LONG BEACH — The commercial Dungeness crab season has been delayed again along the entire Pacific coast north of Point Arena, California until at least Dec. 31 after tests showed some crab are still too low in meat yield.

Crab on the south Washington coast met the meat standard in Dec. 4 testing, but all areas north of Cascade Head have to be at or above 23 percent before the season can open. South of Cascade Head, the required meat threshold is 25 percent. (Cascade Head is located just north of Lincoln City on the north Oregon coast.)

The fishery traditionally opens Dec. 1, but in some years has not opened until January. Delayed openers are not unexpected, but are difficult for crab fishermen and seafood processors to plan around, industry leaders say. When crabbers finally get on the water, they are not sure what they will find.

“We saw OK volume in our testing work but it’s not really designed to be an abundance survey,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “With crab you don’t really know until you get out there.”

The meat percentage off the Long Beach Peninsula was 25 percent and they were an average of 23.9 percent in Westport waters. However, the percentage was a sub-par 22.3 percent in the Astoria area and 21.9 percent in the vicinity of Garibaldi. The remainder of the Oregon coast had satisfactory meat results, except for Port Orford and Brookings in the far south, which were 18.3 percent and 18 percent. The Coos Bay South area was borderline, with a result of 24.9 percent. Northern California also was still too low.

Under Tri-State protocols, established to provide for an orderly season opening, the season is delayed in areas that are adjacent to areas with low meat recovery. Otherwise, some boats race to take advantage of open areas. Off Long Beach, this can mean that large boats homeported elsewhere can end up with a disproportionate share of the harvest.

A third round of testing in areas not yet meeting the minimum will be scheduled with a target completion date of Dec. 22. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to provide additional information regarding the season opening as soon as possible following the completion of the upcoming tests and additional Tri-State discussions.

Tests for the marine toxin domoic acid in south Washington crab found no problems in early December. Levels in the visera of six crab taken from waters off the Long Beach Peninsula ranged from 1 to 7 parts per million on Dec. 4. Anything below 30 ppm is considered clean for purposes of harvesting. Six crab sampled inside Willapa Bay showed levels from zero to 2 ppm on Dec. 5. Levels in the Grayland area on Dec. 4 were zero to 6 ppm.

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