Updated: Caveats mark crab season opener


NEWPORT — The start date for the Oregon commercial crab season hangs on a single remaining test for meat content that must be conducted off of Long Beach, Wash. before operators can splash their gear. Additionally, the coast will be split into two fishing areas, with a further delay in effect south of Cape Arago in Charleston to protect crab that still need more time to fill out.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced it will open the central and north coast season with a gear pre-soak starting Dec. 31. Under the plan, crabbers are allowed to begin harvesting at 9 a.m. on Jan. 3. But that's only if tests can be conducted in Long Beach by Dec. 28 just to make sure the crab up there is ready.

There's a very good chance the tests will be done in time following a period of severe weather that kept boats at the dock, according to Troy Buell, project fishery manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If the Washington crab test out at 23 percent meat content, the season is a go. The latest test result was just shade under the necessary level — 22.8 percent meat — in early December.

But if the boats can't get out in time to test Washington or in the unlikely event the crab tests below the meat criteria, the delay automatically extends to Jan. 15.

Regulatory are keeping the south coast closed to allow areas of crab that tested as low as 19 percent in mid December to fill out their meat content. It also gives time for lingering domoic acid in the crab to dissipate.

“The crab are still above threshold (for domoic acid) from about Gold Beach into Northern California,” Buell said.

An additional closure zone separates the crab with domoic acid from the ones which will be harvested. That helps assure the domoic acid doesn’t enter the supply of harvested crab as the creatures move around the coast.

“The buffer area is a policy by the Oregon Department of Agriculture because we’re not clear on the dynamics of how the toxin moves,” Buell said.

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