Crab Season Delayed to Assure Quality
2012-12-12
Crab Season Delayed to Assur...

This is the time of year when west coast consumers plan many of their holiday meals around fresh Dungeness crab. But results from October and November fisheries surveys have delayed this year’s harvest due to yield figures being below the acceptable lower limit for harvest. Results from the most recent survey, begun the week of December 3rd, just became available as we were preparing this article:

Oregon and Southern Washington coast Dungeness fishing has been delayed until December 31. Northern California will be decided later this week but it is expected to be delayed as well. For more details, visit Pacific States Marine Fishing Commission at www.psmfc.org/crab or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at www.wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/crab.

E&E Foods fully supports fishery managers’ proactive approach to insure that Dungeness crab are not only harvested sustainably, but also when the crab are healthy and ready for market. The delay is not due to the number of Dungeness crab available, but rather the slow development seen this year in or yield percentage, also referred to as meat fill.

A Dungeness crab has a shell, also known as an exoskeleton, which it sheds six times per year as it grows during the first two years of its life; this is also known as molting. As the crab’s old exoskeleton separates from the new one beneath, the new exoskeleton absorbs water and becomes larger. This causes a split at their “molt line,” located mid-laterally on the carapace (the main back shell). The new and extremely soft crab now has the flexibility to back out of its old shell. During this incredible feat, crabs are extremely vulnerable to predators; for that reason it’s done quickly and soon after the live crab has exited they bury themselves in sand to allow their new, larger shell to harden.

A newly molted crab needs time to grow its meat and to fill out the new shell. This is where the yield percentage or meat fill ratio comes into play. If Dungeness crab are allowed to be harvested when the meat fill is below 25%, the end result is a less than desirable product for both processors and consumers. Regular testing prior to the scheduled season opening, helps fishery managers determine when the crab would be in the best condition to harvest.

Crab stocks in the various west coast management areas are surveyed by selected vessels that perform a test fishery to benchmark the abundance and health of the resource; this effort is coordinated by each state’s resource management entity. The location and number of crab harvested is carefully documented, then the crab from the survey are transported back to shore, cooked, and the meat is removed and weighed to determine the yield.

Historically, production of fresh Dungeness crab harvested from San Francisco Bay to the northern Washington coasts begins around the first of December and runs through August. Records show that 75% of the harvest from these areas is usually completed by the end of February.

Ultimately, having to wait a little longer to enjoy Dungeness crab at its peak of quality is best for all of us. And hey, it never hurts to have an excuse to extend celebrations beyond traditional holidays. We wish our hard-working fisherman a safe and successful season, and we invite everyone to get out and support the coastal crab fishery by buying local products.


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