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Commercial crab season opens next week

Fresh Oregon Dungeness crab are poised highlight holiday feasts this month for the first time in six years.

The Oregon commercial crab fleet is set to pull its first pots of the new season Dec. 16 after recent tests showed Dungeness Oregon-wide contain enough meat in them to meet industry standards for a hefty Oregon crab.

Barring bad weather and/or a stalemate in landing price negotiations between the fleet and commercial processors, that should allow plenty of time for fresh Oregon Dungeness to hit Rogue Valley stores by Christmas Eve — a target not achieved since 2014.

That was the last statewide opener before Christmas. The extreme southern part of state waters opened Dec. 18 in 2016, but crab didn’t trickle in to the Rogue Valley in any appreciable levels until after Christmas.

“I sure hope it happens this year,” said Hugh Link, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “It’s been a lot of years since we’ve been able to get a lot of crab to market for Christmas.”

However, not all of Oregon will partake in the Dec. 16 opening.

The open waters will only be from Cape Falcon south to the Oregon border. The waters north of Cape Falcon will remain closed in conjunction with a continued closure of Washington waters because of unhealthy levels of domoic acid found in crab there, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Crabbers from Oregon and Washington often work both sides of the Columbia River, so the closure there will keep consistent with Washington rules until domoic acid levels there subside, said Troy Buell, an ODFW shellfish biologist who works on the commercial shellfish program.

The season historically began Dec. 1 but that has been delayed in Oregon since 2014 for either domoic acid levels of a lack of meat quality — called “meat fill” — in test crabs captured off the coast.

Meat-fill levels off Astoria, Newport and Port Orford failed to reach meat-fill requirements in time for the Dec. 1 opening. However, recent tests all put Dungeness above necessary levels.

The meat-fill tests are to judge how well Dungeness have rebounded after their summer molt. After the molt, the crabs fill with water as their shells harden and they grow new muscle.

To meet market standards, a two-pound crab must yield at least a half-pound of meat.

Under opening rules released Tuesday by the ODFW, commercial crabbers can drop their pots Dec. 13 in what is called the “pre-soak” before starting to pull them Dec. 16.

The commercial Dungeness fishery is by far the most lucrative among Oregon fisheries, generating $73 million worth of landings last year.

Sport crabbing remains open coast-wide and in bays in Oregon but the sport razor clam fishery remains closed because of high domoic acid levels in clams, according to the ODFW.

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

123RF.comDungeness crabs are the most commercially important ocean commodity in Oregon.