What has become an expected event for the last several years, the Oregon Dungeness fishery has once again been postponed until after December 31st. The season, which traditionally starts December 1st, is given the green light by the Oregon fish and wildlife to start when the meat content of the crab reach a specific percentage of body meat. It is slightly below the required levels of 23% which is why they will delay the fishery, giving the crab opportunity to grow.
In previous years there were factors that contributed to the seasons delay. Demoic acid content within the crabs has been of concern for several years. Demoic acid is a toxin that can make consumers sick and, in some cases, result in death. This year the levels are currently within the ranges that won’t factor in the delay.
The Oregon Dungeness crab fishery is Oregon’s most valuable single-species fishery in many years. It accounts for up to forty percent of all commercial landings (ex-vessel value) of Oregon commercial fisheries each year. The fishery has been active since the early 1900s, however in the past twenty-five years both landings and price per pound have increased substantially. The state of Oregon is currently one of the top producers of Dungeness crab worldwide alongside both Washington and California. The Oregon fishery is a limited-entry fishery (i.e. there are a fixed number of permits and a permit is required to fish in this fishery) with more than 400 permits for both large and small vessels.
In 2006, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a three-tier pot limitation program, which limits each vessel to 200, 300 or 500 pots in order to help reduce the number of pots deployed. Each year, about 75 percent of the permit holders actively participate in the fishery.
Dungeness crab are caught with baited traps, also called crab pots. The baited pots rest on the ocean floor, attracting crabs to a one-way door in the pot. Each pot is also equipped with two types of escape hatches. The first is for under-sized (non-legal) crab to escape. The second is an emergency escape hatch kept closed during fishing by weaving in “rotten cotton,” which will deteriorate over a few months underwater if the pot is accidentally lost at sea. This emergency escape hatch allows crab and other animals to escape derelict gear. The management of this fishery is based on the principle of the “three Ss” – size, sex and season. As they are retrieving pots, fishermen sort their catch according to sex (they may only retain males) and size (they may only retain crabs that are 6¼ inches or wider). All under-sized crabs and all females are put overboard (alive) to return to the seafloor to reproduce. The third component of the fishery’s three Ss – season – limits the fishery during the summer and fall, the peak time that crabs are molting, giving them time to allow the soft-shelled crabs to fill out undisturbed.
The fishery occurs all along the Oregon coast in waters mostly from 5-80 fathoms with some fishing effort out to 100 fathoms. The Marine Resources Program’s (MRP)work closely with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and the crab industry in management of this fishery.