ABERDEEN — Crab conditions tests carried out by California, Oregon and Washington have led the three states’ respective departments of fish and wildlife to postpone the beginning of Dungeness crab season until Dec. 15.
The three states tested recently and found the crab meat quality was still less than satisfactory, said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The decision will affect crab boats operating out of Westport, a major port for Dungeness crabbing.
“Crab molt in the late fall and we’re giving them a chance to fill out,” Ayres said in a phone interview. “We’re seeing good numbers in our pots. It just takes a little longer because they have to look a little harder for groceries.”
The three states decided jointly to push the opening for crab fisheries after tests concluded they needed a little longer, Ayres said. The decision to push the opening back is not uncommon; four out of five of the last five years have seen delays to the season opening, Ayres said.
“We talk about that when we’re done. We did that last week. The situation is the same in all three states. It’s the whole coast,” Ayres said. “We’ve delayed it more times before December 1 than we haven’t.”
WDFW contracts with two crab vessels, one from the Columbia and one from Westport, Ayres said. The state contracts with local fishermen, using the crabs caught so the tests don’t cost the state anything, Ayres said.
“The test pays for itself,” Ayres said. “We just have to pay to put our guys on the boat.”
The tests also look for domoic acid that might be passed on from upstream in the food chain, Ayres said.
“We also test for toxins. Crabs feed on razor clams, that’s known,” Ayres said. “So far there’s no toxin detected in Washington. Southern Oregon is seeing a little toxin.”
The state will test again in early December to update the season opening date.