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Matt Ashley moves a container of freshly caught Dungeness crab at the Newport Bayfront Thursday morning. (Photo by Mathew Brock)

Newport crabbers were treated to great weather, a rare on-time start and a high opening price as they kicked off what will likely be a historic Dungeness crab season this week.

The season opened Dec. 1, the first on-time start in seven years, with a starting price of $4.75 per pound at the Newport docks. Good weather also let many of the smaller fishing vessels set out at the same time as the large ones, allowing many to bring in their first hauls late Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Taunette Dixon, co-president of the Newport Fishermen’s Wives and owner of the F/V Tauny-Ann, said she’s been in the fishing industry for at least 20 years and has never seen an opening day this strong. 

“To start, I’ve never seen a price like this, and I’ve been in it for 20 years,” Dixon said. “This is also the first time I’ve ever seen weather like this during an opening, which is really good for the small guys. Many times over the years the weather has been so bad that the smaller boats haven’t even been able to go pull their pots even after the season starts, just the big guys.

“The weather and everything, this whole season has just been completely unheard of. It’s very unusual for everything to fall into place so perfectly,” Dixon continued. “I can tell you though, it’s going to be very good for the fleet. We’re really excited to see how it pans out.”

Prior to the Dec. 1 opening day, most boats set their crabbing equipment for the pre-soak period, where they put baited pots out ahead of time for them to fill before they could legally begin collecting them on opening day.

According to Dixon, most boats leave at the start of opening day and take a day or two to fill up on their first haul.

“Most of the small boats come in (Thursday night) and tomorrow,” Dixon said. “The larger boats usually take about five to seven days to fill up and head back.”

Staff at the Pacific Seafood processing plant in Newport said their first boat came in late Wednesday night, and many more smaller fishing boats began showing up Thursday morning, with around half a dozen seen unloading their hauls at processing plants on the Bayfront.

This year’s on-time start was thanks to low domoic acid levels and high meat yield indicated by tests conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife early last month. Usually a high acid level or low meat yield will hold up the season at least a couple of weeks.

Bad test results aren’t the only the only thing that can hold up a season however. Price negotiations are another source of delays. Last year’s season was held up an entire month as the fishing fleet negotiated back and forth with seafood processors before settling on an opening price of $2.75 per pound, with the caveat that local crabbers deliver their first two hauls to Pacific Seafood. But there didn’t seem to be any delays in that regard this year.

Even with a delayed season and an underwhelming price last year, crabbers 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 significant fall in demand for seafood last year that left processors with an extensive frozen back stock. The market made greats strides in recovering over the year, however, and a $4.75 per pound price is one of the best many members of the local fishing industry have seen.

In addition to the commercial crab season, 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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