Andrew Smith prepares a crab pot for the upcoming commercial crabbing season that is set to open Dec. 1 thanks to low demoic acid levels and high meat yield this year. Assuming price negotiations or rough weather don’t delay the start, this will be the first time the season has opened on time in six years. (Photo by Mathew Brock)

Whether it’s been high domoic acid levels, low meat yield or extended price negotiations, the annual opening of Oregon’s commercial crab season has seen nothing but delays for more than half a decade — until now.

For the first time in six years, Oregon’s commercial crab season is set to begin without delay following low domoic acid and high meat yield indicated by tests conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife earlier in the month.

Commercial crab vessels and their crews can begin setting their gear as soon as this Sunday, Nov. 28, for the pre-soak period, after which they’ll be able to pull in their first hauls of the season on Dec. 1, assuming weather holds clear and a price arrangement between the fishing fleet and Oregon seafood processors is reached.

If a price hasn’t been set by then, or if weather conditions are deemed dangerous, it’s possible the opener could still be delayed. Traditionally, local crabbers remain in port until the appropriate pound price is negotiated with processing companies, such as Pacific Seafood.

Last year’s season was delayed an additional month after pre-soak was approved on Dec. 13 due to difficulties during price negotiations. Ultimately, a $2.75 per pound price was reached with the added stipulation that local crabbers deliver their first two hauls to Pacific Seafood. Even with a delayed season last year, fishermen still brought in 12.2 million pounds of Dungeness crab coastwide with an ex-vessel value of approximately $60.6 million dollars.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a huge fall in demand for seafood last year that left processors with a large frozen back stock. The market began recovering throughout the year, however, so hopes are high for a quick price negotiation period this year.

Taunette Dixon, co-president of the Newport Fishermen’s Wives, said the on-time start to the season was a welcome surprise this year, especially after how many difficulties the industry and local fishing families faced in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everybody is super excited,” Dixon said. “This is the way it used to be, and it’s been years since we’ve been able to do things like this. Fishermen’s Wives has had a lot less applicants for our outreach program this year because many families are going to have an income coming in before Christmas, which will be great for the holidays.”

ODFW is responsible for testing crab caught out of Oregon’s six major crabbing ports ahead of the start of the season, partnering with the Dungeness Crab Commission and Oregon crabbers to do so. Tests begin in early November, and this year, crabs from across Oregon’s harvest areas showed a high meat yield and were well below domoic acid alert levels.

Crab Commission Communications Manager Tim Novotny said, “There might be some unknowns still and stuff that will need to happen first, but things have really fallen into place this year, so we’re happy about that. Every spot in Oregon passed in the first go around of testing. We honestly can’t think of the last time that happened that they all passed the first time with flying colors.”

The recreational crabbing on bays and estuaries and from beaches, docks, piers and jetties is currently open coastwide. Recreational crabbers can call the Shellfish Hotline at 800-448-2474 or visit the ODA recreational shellfish biotoxin closures webpage at www.oregon.gov/oda/programs/foodsafety/shellfish/pages/shellfishclosures.aspx before crabbing for the latest information.

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