CHARLESTON — It is too early to call it a lost year, but it’s clear the Oregon Dungeness crab season is not off to a stellar start.

The season started with delays, and now the crab, if they are out there, appear to be hiding.

“It’s been a mixed batch so far,” said Matt LeDoux, president of the Fishermen’s Wharf in Charleston. “Some of the guys are striking out, but some guys are doing really well.”

It’s just a matter of finding the constantly moving crab, he says. “Crab are kind of like cattle, they just migrate in a big group around the area.”

Fishermen, he says, typically go to familiar ground to start the season.   But they also will drop experimental strings of crab pots in other areas. While the start of this season has been underwhelming, it may just be a matter of shifting focus.

Hallmark Fisheries plant manager Scott Adams agrees. “The catch is down. How much is hard to say.”

However, the season could still bounce back. It just won’t be easy.  

“Some years, fishermen were able to just drop their pots over the side and catch a lot of crab; this year, it is going to take a little experience, a little luck, and you’ve got to move your gear,” Adams said.

In response to the low returns, the price of crab has risen a bit in some areas to give fishermen a boost.  

Adams says prices in Oregon range from the opening price of $2.30 per pound to $3 per pound in some areas. Washington crab has reached $3.75.

Adams says crab fishing is cyclical, so a lower than normal year would not be out of the ordinary considering recent success.

Last year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported a commercial Dungeness crab season in Oregon totaling 14.2 million pounds — a drop of 7.1 million pounds from 2010-2011.

Still, the crab catch has been up over the past decade. The ODFW reports an average catch of 10 million pounds 12 years ago, compared to an average of about 20 million pounds now.

And not all of the news from the coast is bad.

Offsetting the low numbers, the quality of crab coming into the Hallmark Fisheries has been fantastic. Adams says the Charleston-based seafood processor has been getting some very good quality crab.

“That’s normal,” he said. “When the crab get big like this it’s hard to find the quantity.”

Reporter Tim Novotny can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or at tnovotny@theworldlink.com.

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