Crab season delay: the new normal

Each year, the official start of the commercial Dungeness crab season is set for Dec. 1, but it has become increasingly common that, for one reason or another, the opening of the season has been delayed.

And sure enough, last week the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced a two-week delay in this year’s opening. The reason is crab quality testing in early November showed none of the test areas along the Oregon coast met the meat yield criteria for a Dec. 1 opening. The delayed opening will allow crabs to fill with more meat. 

Last season, crabbing didn’t begin until after the first of the year. Two years ago, the start date was Jan. 15.

In addition to undersized crab, the season has seen past delays due to the presence of domoic acid, a marine biotoxin that can temporarily build up in crabs, making them hazardous for humans to eat. However, all of the crabs tested by ODFW earlier this month were found to be safe for human consumption, so that is not a concern, at least at this point.

Our commercial crabbers have likely grown accustomed to delays in the opening of the season. In fact, Troy Buell, state fisheries manager with ODFW, said the last time it opened on the official Dec. 1 start date was in the 2014-15 season.

We’re sure delays are frustrating for everyone involved. Commercial Dungeness crab is Oregon’s most valuable fishery. Last year’s delayed season opening still brought in the second highest ex-vessel value ever ($66.7 million) with 18.7 million pounds landed, just above the 10-year average.

But at the same time, we agree with Tim Novotny, communications manager with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, who described commercial crabbers as “businessmen, first and foremost. They know that what’s good for business is putting the best product out there. It’s best for them, it’s best for the consumer.”

Buell, the state fisheries manager, said ODFW will do another round of testing next week — they take samples at 12 locations all along Oregon’s coast. If these next tests determine crabs in some areas have acceptable meat yields while others do not, it’s possible they could open just a portion of the coast, but that remains to be seen.

The bottom line is it’s a tough job for our commercial crabbers, and it’s certain to get even tougher with new regulations coming down the pike next year to deal with concerns about whales becoming entangled in crab gear — but that’s a topic for another editorial.

We just want to say we greatly appreciate all the men and women of our commercial fishing fleet, who play such a vital role in our communities. We also hope the crab season will get underway without further delays and that it will prove to be a safe and bountiful harvest.


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