"The season opener is still up in the air," says Dan Ayres, the biologist who leads the department's coastal shellfish unit. "The crabs are in really crummy condition."
Washington, Oregon and northern California aim for a coordinated start to Dungeness crab season on Dec. 1, but fishery managers earlier this year realized the population wouldn't be in good enough shape to support an early December launch. After conducting tests, they pushed back the start to Dec. 15, but are now considering a further delay. A third round of tests is slated for today. "We'll need to wait for those results," Ayres says. "We'll be sharing results and making a coastwide decision."
Ayres characterizes the postponement as "not typical, but not unusual." Last year, fishery managers green-lighted a Dec. 1 start to Dungeness crab season, but the crabbing industry self-imposed an additional 10-day delay. Fishery managers have since "tightened up protocol" to prevent premature starts.
The new protocol may delay the season in future years, but Ayres says current conditions wouldn't have passed muster under the old standards. Scientists aren't sure how to explain the wretched state of the stock: "They molted a little later," Ayres says. "There could be more crabs and not enough groceries."
Still, the situation isn't dire. "There will be crabs hitting the market," says Ayres, who's crossing his fingers it happens before Christmas.
"We've had cracked crabs for Christmas Eve every year I can remember," Ayres says. "If we don't have crabs, my wife's going to be awfully mad at me."