Dungeness crab season gets underway off the Oregon Coast

OREGON CITY, Ore. - Local fish markets and hundreds of northwest families have something to celebrate: unlike last year, Oregon dungeness crabs will be available by Christmas.

Crab season starts Monday at midnight off the Oregon coast. Pots have been soaking for a few days and boats will start delivering fresh crabs to the dock as soon as Monday morning.

The season usually begins about a week after Thanksgiving, but last year, dungeness crabs off the Oregon coast hadn't packed on enough meat under their shells when December rolled around. The crabs still weren't ready by Christmas, and the 2012 season didn't start until after the new year.

This year, the crabs also weren't ready at the start of December. They're required to have a half-pound of edible meat for every two pounds of total crab. But tests show they're ready now.

"This is the most important time, " said Brian Floyd, manager of Tony's Fish Market in Oregon City. "This is where they get the majority of their money for the year."

It's also an important time for fishmongers like Floyd. At Tony's, they've been stocking crabs from Washington, but they have a partnership with a captain out of Newport, Cody Chase, who runs four crab boats every winter. Tony's prefers to have local crab to sell for Christmas.

"I get the same people every year," said Floyd. "They order about the same amount and then they do the whole thing with their family so it's a really big family event."

And Floyd says it's a relief that crab season is getting going now, and not in a few weeks. He expects to sell nearly 3,500 pounds of dungeness at $7.99 to $8.99 a pound.

"I have to have crab, " he said, "or I let a lot of people down."

The dungeness crab fishery is the most valuable single-species fishery off the Oregon coast. The catch ranges in value between $5 million and $45 million annually..