With the danger of whale entanglements eased, the Dungeness crab season for central California was scheduled to open Sunday, Dec. 15. But lackluster meat quality led Northwest state fisheries manager to delay opening other coastal areas until the New Year.

Officials from California, Oregon and Washington state wildlife agencies conferred Dec. 6 and agreed on the delay, citing meat recovery values still below 25 percent in areas on the northern coast. The continuing closure will remain in effect from Point Arena, Calif., north to the Canadian border, “through December 3, 2019 at least,” according to a joint statement issued through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Testing protocols specify season delays for any area where sampled crabs do not meet the minimum standards for meat recovery, with additional testing before a new opening date can be set. The state agencies are sampling again in mid-December with an eye to having complete results Dec. 20.

It’s a rocky start to the beginning of the winter fishery that has had more than its share of problems, from domoic acid to marine mammal conflicts. The California opener originally set for Nov. 22 was delayed, after the Bodega Bay crabbing fleet voted to voluntarily hold back from deploying their gear until a large number of endangered humpback whales had finished feeding in their nearshore zone.

The Bodega Bay crabbers weighed the loss of the initial days of the season against the danger that a whale entanglement with their gear could trigger a shutdown of the fishery – and possibly loss of the entire season. With other crabbers signing on to the delay, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife set a new date of Dec. 15 for the central coast.

North of Point Arena, crabbers must await new meat analysis, although California officials set contingency plans for a possible Dec. 31 opening.

“Delays due to quality affect the entire northern commercial fishery in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties,” according to a notice by state officials. “The season in these districts is now scheduled to open at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, to be preceded by a 64-hour gear setting period that would begin no earlier than 8:01 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2019.

“Additional testing will be scheduled to occur by Dec. 20 to determine whether the season can open on Dec. 31 or will be delayed once more until Jan. 15, 2020.”

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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