Oregon Dungeness season delayed, but California crab is coming

Fresh Dungeness crab from Northern California will hit Rogue Valley seafood outlets next this week, but crabs now crawling off the Oregon Coast likely won't reach local tables until closer to Christmas.

Commercial crabbers along the Northern California coast will start pulling their pots Sunday as Dungeness crab-fishing season opens there.

However, the Oregon season will be delayed until at least Dec. 15 to give the Dungeness more time to fill out their shells with meat. The start of the season could be delayed even longer, should the crabs not reach the size that help make Dungeness Oregon's most profitable fishery.

The Medford area has seen a smidgen of fresh Dungeness from the commercial fleet south of Mendocino, but the California fishery will funnel fresh crab inland by midweek, says Mike Cooper, owner of Rogue Valley Fresh Seafood Co. in Medford.

"It's usually three to four days," says Cooper, who has been selling Central California crab this past week. "But we always get a lot of calls for crab between Thanksgiving and Christmas. People are always interested when it opens in Oregon."

Rogue Valley crustaceanists prefer Oregon crab for its freshness, taste and for its shop-local flavor, Cooper says.

"Oregon crab has its own identity," he says.

The delayed season does not mean the crabs are in poor shape or that they are somehow of poor quality. It simply allows the crabs enough chance to fill up with meat to keep Oregon Dungeness a top-drawer item for both recreational crabbers and consumers.

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.

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

November tests showed that crabs captured off Brookings and Port Orford were just shy of the 25 percent threshold, according to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. Crabs caught off Charleston north to the Columbia River exceeded the threshold, except for those caught off Astoria and Newport — two important crabbing ports, according to the commission.

Those meat shortfalls led to the delay in setting of crab pots.

Oregon will not open its commercial season Dec. 1 if any of its ports fail to hit the 25 percent threshold during the mid-November testing.

— Mark Freeman

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