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Commercial crabbing season to open Jan. 15

Commercial crabbers will get to harvest in mid-January off most of the Oregon Coast and into Washington state.

The Dungeness crab fishery from Cape Blanco to the Columbia River and into Washington state will open Jan. 15, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Thursday.

Though the fishery is typically scheduled to open Dec. 1, it was delayed due to low meat yield. A tri-state agreement along the west coast to manage Dungeness crab fisheries only allows the season to be delayed because of low meat yield until Jan. 15.

“We’ve seen some improvement from the tests that we’ve done, although it’s been slower than normal,” said Troy Buell, the state fishery program leader.

While crabbers aren’t necessarily thrilled about the delay, they understand that it is necessary for a healthy market, said Hugh Link, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

“I think this is unprecedented. I can’t remember a time when all three states had this much of a delayed opening,” said Link, a 23-year veteran of the industry. “Our goal is to have good, marketable crab. If that’s what it takes for crabbers to get the best price and consumers to get the best crab, that’s what we’ll do.”

Due to low meat yield this year, officials had been pondering whether to delay the season in all areas or whether to open it earlier in locations with larger crabs. Tests along the coast in October and November resulted in meat yields around 20 percent. All areas must have 23 percent yields, allowing consumers to purchase meatier crab, before the season can open.

Despite a delayed opening last year to Oregon’s most valuable fishery, crabbers hauled in 20.4 million pounds, 22 percent above the 10-year average. The average price was $3.08 per pound.

The ex-vessel value finished at a record $62.7 million. Commercial crabbers in Washington state landed 16.4 million pounds.

Crabbers may begin setting gear Jan. 12.

The recreational crab fishing season has already opened in the same area of the Oregon Coast. Both recreational and commercial fishing remain closed south of Cape Blanco due to high marine toxin levels.

Factors like price negotiations and elevated levels of marine toxins have delayed the commercial opening in recent years.

“It’s been a long season trying to get Dungeness crab fishing season up and running,” Buell said. “We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I guess.”

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