NEWPORT, Ore. -- Oregon’s most valuable commercial fishery for the state’s official crustacean, Dungeness crab, got underway north of Cape Blanco Monday.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, this year’s opening was delayed from its target start date of Dec. 1 because testing of crabs on some parts of the Pacific coast showed crabs were low in meat yield. In partnership with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and the commercial crab industry, ODFW collects and quality tests crabs out of the six major crabbing ports before the season begins. The season can be delayed if the meat yield doesn’t meet a certain standard, which means that consumers get a high quality product with plenty of meat, according to ODFW. (The goal is 23 or 25 percent meat recovery depending on the area, or 9-10 oz. of crab meat for a crab weighing 2.5 pounds.) Failure to achieve a negotiated opening price and intense coastal storms also delayed the opening a few days after Jan. 15.
Dungeness crab have been harvested commercially along the Pacific Coast since the late 1800s. Current regulations allow only male crabs larger than 6 ¼ inches across the back of the shell to be taken. This protects the female and undersized male crabs which constitute the breeding population and produce the next generation of crab to be harvested in about four years, ensuring the sustainability of the overall stock and the industry, according to ODFW. This regulatory approach is working. Preliminary results from a NOAA study show that the population of legal-size males appears to be stable to increasing on the West Coast.
Commercial crabbing starts in the winter, when crabs are hard-shelled and full of meat. State natural resource agencies in Oregon, Washington and California cooperate as part of what’s known as the Tri-State Agreement. They jointly set a season opening date for the area from Point Arena, Calif. to Grays Harbor, Wash., or divide it into two areas with different opening dates. This helps to ensure that the fishery is fair and certain areas aren’t over-targeted while others are closed.
“We’re looking forward to many more years of a successful commercial crab industry and sustainable resource in Oregon,” said Troy Buell, ODFW state fishery program leader.
Vessels returning to Newport had the most pounds of crab landed last year, followed by Astoria and Coos Bay. A little over 300 fishing boats bring crab into Oregon each season. The industry is an important economic driver in Oregon’s coastal towns.