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Commercial crabbers get the OK to drop their pots

Oregon’s commercial crabbing fleet could ring in the New Year by pulling fresh Dungeness from the ocean.

After a monthlong delay to the start of the commercial crabbing season, crabbers can start dropping pots Dec. 28 and pulling them up Dec. 31, according to a news release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The traditional opening date for commercial crabbers is Dec. 1, but meat tests showed crabs hadn’t filled out enough by then, so the season was put on hold to let crabs off the Oregon Coast fatten up.

The Oregon fleet of more than 300 commercial crabbers will be allowed to set their pots Dec. 28 for the so-called “pre-soak” period to start collecting Dungeness before they start to pull their pots Dec. 31, according to ODFW.

However, consumers might not see fresh Oregon crabs right away depending on weather and whether the fleet and commercial processors can agree on a price before the pre-soak period.

“There are still a lot of variables at play, but the good news is we’re not into January like we have been the past few years,” said Tim Novotny, communications manager for the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission in Charleston.

If all goes well, Rogue Valley crab-lovers could start seeing Dungeness in local restaurants and markets within a week of the first pulled pots, Novotny said.

Delays in the season opener have been common this decade as Oregon and the commercial fleet collectively protect the expectation by consumers that the Oregon Dungeness they buy will have plenty of meat. A two-pound crab must yield at least a half-pound of meat.

While past delays have seen Dungeness be unavailable for popular Christmas feasts in Oregon, they generally don’t damage the overall commercial fishery.

Last year’s season did not open until deep into January, and Oregon’s crabbing fleet landed 18.7 million pounds of Dungeness, just above the 10-year average. The $66.7 million those crabs fetched was the second-highest in Oregon history, according to ODFW.

Fisheries managers use “meat fill” tests 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 shells harden and they grow new muscle.

For commercial crabbing to open south of Cascade Head, Dungeness must sport 25 percent of meat content, and 23 percent north of Cascade Head.

Tests of crab pulled earlier this week eclipsed those standards at each port, according to ODFW.

Despite the commercial delays, the recreational harvest of Dungeness has remained open in the ocean as well as bays, off beaches and in estuaries.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

State shellfish managers have delayed the start of the commercial Dungeness crabbing season along the entire Oregon coast until at least Dec. 31, because of lack of meat on the crustaceans. Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard via AP, File