West Coast Crab Population is Healthiest in Three Years

Fat crustaceans mean good news for commercial crabbers and holiday season menu-planners. According to fishery managers, a pre-season test of Dungeness crab health confirmed that the 2014 commercial season can commence on December 1 off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. This is the traditional start of the season, which has been delayed in the past two years due to the less than ideal size of crabs upon testing.

Dungeness crabs provide the most income out of any Washington state fishery, bringing in nearly twice as much as albacore tuna, the second-place species, according to the Chinook Observer. In order for the season to begin, crabs must fill their shells, after the most recent molt, to at least 23 percent meat. This year's sampling shows that Dungeness crabs have filled out to almost 27 percent meat—a vast improvement over the 2013 and 2012 seasons, when fishery managers delayed the start of season by 15 and 31 days, respectively, because of slow meat gain.

"Fifty percent of the season catch is usually taken in the first 7 to 12 days of fishing and often 80 percent in the first 30 days," said Columbia crab fleet spokesman Dale Beasley. Regardless, some commercial boats will continue to fish beyond the first 30 days. The Outdoor Wire reports that commercial crabbers are allowed to set their gear three days before the season begins. According to the Statesman Journal, any vessel making crab landings in Oregon during the first 30 days of fishing must be certified to have been free of crabs on that date. In San Francisco, where the season has already begun, Dungeness crabs are fetching $3 per pound—a good opening price.

The northern portion of the Washington coast will not open for non-tribal commercial fishing until later in the season. Recreational harvest of Dungeness crab is open year round in Oregon’s bays and estuaries.