CHARLESTON — This year’s commercial crab season will likely be delayed a couple weeks.
The season in Oregon is scheduled to start annually Dec. 1, unless the crab need more time to grow. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will not open the season until the crab’s bodies contain 25 percent meat.
“The fishermen want that too so that when someone goes to Safeway and buys a crab they’ll get one that is full of meat,” said Rex Leach, president of the Coos Umpqua Crabbing Association.
This year, the crab around Charleston are already meaty enough to fish, but the crab directly north and south of here need more time. So, the entire Oregon Coast is closed.
That probably means there are fewer crab in the waters off Coos Bay, and more around Astoria and Brookings, Leach said.
“Wherever the crab are weak, that is where the volume is,” because weaker crab indicates more individuals are in the water competing for food, Leach said.
ODFW will do another round of testing next week to get a better idea of when the season will start. Based on current projections, fishermen will likely head out Dec. 15, Leach said.
The crabbing association will begin negotiating crab price with fish processors in early December, Leach said.
Last year, Charleston fishermen negotiated the highest opening price ever, $2.30 per pound off the boat. The tradeoff for that high price was an agreement that prices would stay fixed for the first 22 days of the crabbing season. Opening prices are usually unlocked and subject to shifting market conditions within a couple days.
The high and locked price would have been a good deal for fishermen, had there been many crab. But crab were not plentiful in 2011, and high demand from out of country buyers quickly drove the crab’s market value higher than $2.30.
“We were locked in and that hurt the fleet tremendously,” Leach said. “I don’t think that is going to happen this year.”
Leach said California crabbers already have settled on a $3 per pound opening price with processors, another record breaking opening price.
“I think,” Leach said, “we should get every bit of that $3.”