Oregon's famous Dungeness crab season delayed

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Dungeness crab from the Oregon Coast probably won't make it to dinner tables until late December because tests have yet to show the crabs are at the correct size for harvesting.

The Oregon crab season has been delayed until Dec. 15, so fans of the crustacean will have to rely on Northern California hauls until then, The Medford Mail Tribune reported.

"Oregon crab has its own identity," he said Mike Cooper, owner of Rogue Valley Fresh Seafood Co. in Medford.

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 25 percent meat, meaning a 2-pound crab must yield at least a half-pound of meat.

November tests showed that crabs were just shy of the threshold. Similarly slow meat-recovery rates triggered a coastwide delay in the 2012 season until Dec. 31.

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

"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."

In 2011, the Oregon coast from the Columbia River south to Gold Beach opened Dec. 15, but the South Coast ports of Gold Beach and Brookings did not open that year until Jan. 15. It was the first "split opening" off the Oregon Coast since 2005.

The two biggest biological factors that affect when crab fill out are food availability and when they shed their shells, said Brandon Ford, the marine program spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Newport.

Crabs fill out quicker if there is a lot of food in the water. High numbers of Dungeness on the ocean floor also can trigger slower growth because of competition for food, Ford says. Crabs are scavengers and eat virtually anything they can get their claws on, including smaller crabs, he says.

While the commercial season remains on hold in Oregon, the ocean sport-crabbing season should open as scheduled Sunday.