COOS BAY, Ore. — The Oregon Dungeness crab season has been delayed two weeks with a start date now set for December 16.
It's the latest in a long string of delayed seasons.
The commercial Dungeness crab fishery is one of the most valuable in Oregon.
The season start date is supposed to be December 1, but for six consecutive seasons it’s been delayed.
"It's a moving goalpost all the time with the Dungeness crab fishery and yeah, I guess were used to waiting here because the state makes the decision when we get to open the season," says Nick Edwards, owner of F/V Carter Jon.
Domoic acid and meat fill are the two main reasons for delaying the start of crab season.
So far this year, domoic acid levels are down, which is good, although meat fill tests show some crab in some areas aren't ready to be harvested.
"Our working hypothesis is that the reason that they sometimes don't fill out by December 1 is usually to do with the food availability as well as the relationship with the density of crab," says state fishery management program leader Troy Buell with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "When there's more crab in an area, there is less food for each crab to eat."
The consistent delay could be attributed to a change in testing criteria in 2013.
"In the past we had done a projection," Buell says, "but that didn't provide a lot of confidence for the industry in terms of how good those crab would actually be, so we changed it to a system where we have to see a test result where they actually meet the criteria."
The delay is a hardship for the fishermen, whose paychecks are also delayed.
Now, add the pandemic to that.
"It the price structure is substantially lower than last year," explains Edwards, "then you run the risk of running your business backwards to stay afloat, and I hope that's not going to be the case this year."
The opening date for Oregon's most valuable fishery is set for December 16, pending new testing.
The next round of meat fill testing is scheduled for after Thanksgiving, and while domoic acid levels are down, testing will continue to ensure the safety of eating the crab.