Get out your claw crackers and fasten your bibs — crab season has officially arrived off the Southwest Washington Coast.

This year's season started on schedule Monday, and so far indications are that the Dungeness crab are hard and full of meat, state fisheries officials say. Last year's season was delayed because the crustaceans had failed to harden and fatten up adequately.

Steve Manewal, general manager at the Bell Buoy fish processing plant in Chinook, said Tuesday that it's too early to make predictions about the bounty of the harvest this year but that it seems like it's off to "a pretty good start."

Diminishing crab supply — and a sudden spike in demand from Chinese consumers — has pushed prices upward in the past three years. Many crab processors such as Bell Buoy plan to pay fishers $3.10 per pound of live crab, up from starting prices of $2.75 last year and $2.50 the year before.

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