The commercial Dungeness crab fishery opener, traditionally Dec. 1, has been delayed again this year due to low meat recovery levels.
After crabs molt and shed their exoskeletons, it takes a little while for their new ones to harden and fill with meat. If they don’t meet specifications in state sampling, regulators can delay the season.
“The fishery in Washington, Oregon and California is delayed until at least Dec. 16 (south of Klipsan Beach, which is midway between Grays Harbor and the Columbia River) waiting for better meat recovery results,” said Dan Ayres, Department of Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager. “The Washington fishery north of Klipsan Beach is delayed to give tribal fishers a head start.”
The Quinault Indian Nation, which has treaty rights to some of the crab and is not bound by the tri-state agreement that governs seasons for non-tribal commercial crabbers, is also delaying its fishery north of Klipsan Beach “due to elevated domoic acid in crab they collected from the central Washington coast,” said Ayres.
High levels of domoic acid, a marine toxin that at certain levels can be harmful to humans if ingested, shut down razor clam digging last month and levels are also high in crab. Like the state, the Quinault Indian Nation takes its own samples and submits them to the state Department of Health for analysis.
“We were on the ocean yesterday (Sunday), ahead of this storm and messy ocean we saw coming, to fish our test gear to get new meat recovery and domoic acid results,” said Ayres. “California and Oregon were out doing the same. We expect to have a tri-state fishery opening — or further delay — decision some time later this week.”
The $20 million fishery in Washington is one of the most important in the state, according to Fish and Wildlife. There are 228 Washington coastal commercial Dungeness crab license holders.
The season usually starts around Dec. 1, but the tri-state testing protocols specify that if any area does not meet the minimum meat recovery criteria — 23% north of Cascade Head and 24% south of Cascade Head — the fishery is delayed.
The last round of testing in early November showed meat recovery of 21.8% at both Long Beach and Westport, below the minimum required level. Meat recovery levels were high enough for the opener in two testing areas in California and all but two in Oregon, Astoria and Port Orford. Per the tri-state agreement, if areas do not meet the minimum, the entire fishery is delayed.
Last year, the non-tribal commercial fishery was delayed several times due to low meat recovery levels and did not open until Jan. 25. The Quinault Indian Nation opened its 2019 fishery in early December.