Commercial Dungeness crab fishery delayed again

Dungeness crab south of Klipsan Beach near Ocean Park in Pacific County are still not meaty enough after their molting phase so the commercial fishery has been delayed again, according to a statement released Thursday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Policy leaders from Washington, Oregon and California met today to discuss the results and agreed to delay the opening in the area from Klipsan Beach to Point Arena, Calif., until 9 a.m. Jan. 15, 2018,” wrote Heather Reed, Intergovernmental Ocean Policy Coordinator with Fish and Wildlife in a letter addressed to coastal Dungeness crab fishers. “There will be a gear set period beginning at 8 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2018.”

The season setting process for commercial Dungeness crab is complicated. It involves three states and a number of Native American tribes.

The tribes get something called a “head start period,” a season where the tribes can fish for crab before non-tribal commercial fishing begins. For example, the Quinaults have been crabbing since Dec. 7 off Westport, where the crab have been determined to have enough meat content to fish.

“The tribes use the same meat recovery minimum, and the crab off Westport have met that minimum,” said State Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres.

“The reason the state fishers in Westport are not currently fishing is that our state/tribal agreement provides tribal fishers a head start period to ensure they are able to catch the 50 percent harvest share they are entitled to. The crab they are landing are in very good condition.”

The crab from Klipsan Beach south through northern California are not; they are still below the industry standard, according to the results of recent test fisheries, said Reed. This year, the Quinault Tribe will get 45 to 49 days before the commercial crabbers can start fishing.

The state monitors tribal fishing and after 31 days will judge the success of the fishery. If the tribal harvest is low, the shorter head start time is used.

Longer head-start periods are needed when the tribal harvest is good, as that indicates an abundance of crab, meaning the non-tribal fleet can catch their share much faster and can exceed their harvest share, explained Reed.

The following season opener dates include gear set, opening, and hold inspection dates. Reed asked commercial crabbers to study the management measures before starting fishing operations and to stay informed relative to additional changes.

Klipsan Beach to the Oregon border including Willapa Bay: Jan. 15, 2018. A 73-hour gear pre-set period starting at 8 a.m., Jan. 12, 2018 will precede the opening. Vessel hold inspections will be conducted Jan. 14, 2018, starting at noon. Fishers can begin fishing in this area at 9 a.m. Jan. 15, 2018.

Fishers participating in the fishery south of Klipsan Beach or in Willapa Bay are subject to reduced pot limits. Fishers with permanent pot limits of 500 and 300 will be allowed to use 400 or 250 pots, respectively. Unused buoy tags must be on board vessels until the temporary pot limit is lifted.

Klipsan Beach to Destruction Island: The state will provide a confirmation on the state season opening in the area between Klipsan Beach and Destruction Island no later than Jan. 11, 2018 which will include details on special management area boundaries and closure dates.