OREGON COAST — The opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season will be delayed from Dec. 1 until at least Dec. 16 along the entire Oregon coast, according to a press release issued Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Crab quality testing in early November showed that none of the test areas met the meat yield criteria for a Dec. 1 opening. The delayed opening will allow crabs to fill with more meat.
Troy Buell, state fisheries manager with ODFW, said they have 12 testing areas spread pretty evenly up and down the Oregon coast.
“We test them until they test out. Because none of the areas met criteria at the time, we will be testing all of them again,” said Buell.
When asked what constitutes an acceptable meat yield in crabs, Buell said most of Oregon, and including Northern California, has to meet 25 percent, and north of Cascade Head, including the Washington coast, is at 23 percent. In the first round of testing, the highest meat yield was 22.3 percent in Brookings, and the lowest was 20.3 percent in Astoria.
As far as the next round of testing, “Right now we’re looking at probably the week of Thanksgiving for doing that,” said Buell. “It’s always weather dependent, but we’ll be doing it as early as the beginning of that week.”
Will the two-week delay be enough time for the crabs to fill out? “It’s hard to project. It doesn’t happen often, but we have seen areas slide backwards,” said Buell. “Typically, though, it’s more like 1 or 2 percent (gain) a week. It’s possible that we could open (on Dec. 16), but it’s really hard to speculate on that. It will all just depend on what we find in the next step.”
It’s also possible the season could open just along a portion of the coast.
“We have the ability to split the coast up into areas with different opening dates, but we coordinate closely with the industry on this, and basically you need a pretty good chunk of coast for it to make sense to have an opener,” Buell said.
A delay in the opening of the commercial crab season is not unusual. “In the 2014-15 season, we had a Dec. 1 opener for the entire coast,” Buell said. “That’s the last time that happened, but that was also a very low volume year.”
Tim Novotny, communications manager with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, said crabbers never want to see a delay in the opening of the season, but it’s something they’ve almost come to expect.
“They’re businessmen, first and foremost,” Novotny said, “and 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.”
Novotny was asked what the expectations are for this crab season.
“There’s always many projections, and they vary widely,” he said. “It’s a cyclical fishery, and, by and large, we’ve been kind of on an upswing or at least above average. Nobody will know for sure until we get to that first, and really second pull, until we start to get a really good indication.”
There are other factors that have caused delays in the crab season in the past. One has been the presence of domoic acid in the crabs, but during ODFW’s initial testing, samples were found to be safe for human consumption. However, due to elevated levels of domoic acid detected in razor clams in some areas, testing in Dungeness crab will continue regularly south of Heceta Head.
The start of crab season has also been delayed in the past when crabbers and processors failed to agree upon a price for the product. Novotny said the crab commission does not get involved in price negotiations, but he isn’t aware of any discussions taking place at this point.
“The marketing association or the processors have to request a negotiation with ODA (Oregon Department of Agriculture) and I’m not sure if anybody’s done that,” he said.
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.
Recreational harvest of Dungeness crab in the ocean off Oregon will open Dec. 1, as scheduled, in all areas. Recreational crab harvesting is currently open coast wide in bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers and jetties. ODFW advises that before heading out, recreational crabbers always check for closures by calling the Shellfish Hotline (800-448-2474) or going to ODA’s website, www.oregon.gov/oda (type “shellfish closures” in the search bar).