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Since You Asked: Don't let delay to start season make you crabby

I saw a sign at the grocery store that said fresh Oregon Dungeness crab won't be available until almost Christmastime. If I remember correctly, we normally get that first batch of crab in the first week of December. What gives?

— Dan D., Medford

Well, Dan, it sure sounds like you are ready for your first Dungeness of the season. Unfortunately, the Dungeness aren't ready for you.

The quality of Dungeness off the Oregon Coast isn't quite up to par yet, so the ocean crabbing season has been put off until at least Dec. 15. That goes for recreational crabbers as well, and they will be restricted to bays and estuaries until then.

At issue is the "meat fill" tests used to determine how well the Dungeness have rebounded from the late summer shedding of their shells in a process called molting.

After the molt, the crabs fill with water as their shell hardens and they grow new muscle. That muscle is what we crab-lovers know as meat.

The minimum threshold is a 25 percent meat-recovery rate, meaning a 2 pound crab must yield at least a half-pound of meat.

Tests on Dungeness this month off the Oregon Coast showed a slow meat recovery rate, so the season will be delayed, according to the Charleston-based Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

Crabbers and seafood processors also will have to settle on a per-pound price, a negotiation that is monitored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The Dungeness crab fishery is the most lucrative fishery in Oregon, with last year's crabbers landing 21.2 million pounds of Dungeness that fetched crabbers $49 million, according to the commission.

That's the second-highest value on record, with only the 2004-05 season haul of $52.9 million of crab topping it.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.