Fresh and meaty Oregon-caught Dungeness crabs should start showing up in the Rogue Valley next week after the state's most lucrative fishing season gets under way Monday.
More than 300 commercial crabbers headed to sea Friday to set their pots in preparation for Monday's opener.
The season was delayed 15 days from the normal Dec. 1 opening to give the Dungeness time to fill with enough meat to attain the quality levels people expect from the local industry, according to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Crabbers and processors settled Wednesday night on a price that's 15 percent higher than last year, crossing the last hurdle for the fishery to begin in time for fresh Dungeness to anchor traditional Oregon holiday meals.
"A lot of Christmas traditions are around Dungeness crab for the holidays, so we're glad to be back on the water," says Hugh Link, executive director of the Coos Bay-based commission.
The opening price commercial crabbers will receive is $2.65 per pound, up from $2.30 per pound last year, Link says.
The season was delayed until crabs could pass so-called "meat fill" tests, which are used to determine how well the crabs have filled out after the late summer shedding of their shells. After the molt, 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 Pacific Fishery Management Council. But at other ports, such as Coos Bay, crabs boasted a 28 percent meat-fill.
"That's about stuffed, as full as they could get," Link says.
Tests earlier this month showed meat-fill ratings of more than 25 percent along the entire Oregon Coast, according to the PFMC.
Slow meat-recovery rates triggered a coastwide delay until Dec. 31 last year. 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 crabs fill out are food availability and when they shed their shells, says Brandon Ford, the marine program spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Newport.
Crabs fill out more quickly 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.
Also, the timing of the late-summer molting process can vary from year to year, Ford says.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email@example.com.