The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) reports that Dungeness crab in two out of three tested ports in the northern region have met the shell-to-meat ratio needed to open the commercial crabbing season on Dec. 1.
The DFW’s first round of crab tests were in the Fort Bragg, Eureka and Crescent City port areas and only Eureka fell below the 25% meat yield standard.
Trinidad has yet to be tested and Eureka was “a little low” and will be re-tested on Nov. 12, said Pete Kalvass, of the DFW’s Eureka office. Trinidad will also be tested then, and if both meet the standard, the commercial season will open on schedule.
The recreational crabbing season started just after midnight on Saturday. The DFW only tracks commercial crab landings, which account for over 90% of the total take.
The last two commercial seasons have been robust, with almost 17 million pounds landed in the region last year and 16 million pounds the year before.
The ten-year average for the region is about 10 million pounds, indicating a recent crab population spike cycle. Kalvass said another strong season is expected this year, based on the above-average landing totals for the least two years.
But as longtime crabbers know, boom times are cyclical. “You do have highs and lows that last a couple of years each,” Kalvass said. Based on the pre-season tests, however, a third year of strong commercial crabbing is forecasted.
How sport crabbers will fare is hard to say, Kalvass continued, as the testing spots are offshore, in deep water areas where only commercial crabbers drop their pots.
The last Dungeness crab season started late in the northern region, on Jan. 15, due to the Trinidad area’s slower maturation rate. The season was extended a month, to August 15, because of the delayed start.
All four of the region’s port areas need to reach the meat yield standard before the commercial season’s opening can be approved. The first round of pre-season tests shows promise, as Crescent City doesn’t often meet the standard this early.
And there’s plenty of time for the crabs to get bigger.
“There’s a whole month for the crab to continue to put on weight before the commercial season opens, and they can put on as much as a half a% per week under really good conditions,” said Kalvass. “So the indications are that the crab this year are well ahead of last year’s and the previous year in terms of filling in the meat yield and those crab that are out there, that both commercial and sport and fishermen catch, should be in pretty good shape compared to previous years.”
The recreational size minimum for Dungeness crabs is five and three-quarters inches, measured across the shell. Both males and females can be taken.