By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

Crab anglers and processors reached a price agreement Thursday, on the condition that next week's scheduled tests reveal the crustaceans as meaty and ready to harvest.

Rick Shepherd, a crab fisherman and Del Norte Fishermen's Marketing Association member, said commercial Dungeness fishermen will receive $1.60 a pound, provided they're ready.

andquot;The price could be better, but it probably isn't a bad starting price,andquot; he said.

Negotiations began with fishermen asking $1.85 a pound, which processors countered with $1.40, a price that on Monday was heartedly rejected.

andquot;I'm not thrilled by ($1.60), I'd like to see more, but with what's going on I think I'm somewhat happy with it,andquot; Shepherd said.

To ensure the bottom feeders are filled out, all ports from Fort Brag to West Port, Wash., must have crab with a legal meat-to-shell ratio, which for most ports, is 25 percent.

andquot;All the areas on the coast have to be legal before we're going to go into further negotiations,andquot; Shepherd said. andquot;If any one area is not ready, no area is ready.andquot;

Boat owners and plant managers will appoint observers to make sure the tests are conducted honestly both at sea and at the plant, he said.

andquot;Until that test comes through, there's not much we can do,andquot; Shepherd said.

Pots are scheduled to be set Tuesday, retrieved Wednesday, the crabs tested Thursday and the results discussed Friday at a meeting between buyers and fishermen, he said.

Exactly when fishermen will have the OK to set gear, however, is uncertain.

andquot;We don't know until the test results are in,andquot; Shepherd said.

This season's delay has been attributed to fishermen and buyers' worries of underdeveloped crab, as it's taken a while to develop a loyal market, which could be shattered by a bad year.

And to further frustrate fishermen, andquot;a handfulandquot; of Brookings boats have dropped pots into the Pacific, Shepherd said.

Even so, he's pleased with the cooperation the processors and fishermen have shown thus far.

andquot;(They're) working together to ensure a good quality of crab is delivered to the consumer,andquot; Shepherd said.

Though Crescent City fishermen have remained united through the tumultuous times, that isn't quite the case up north.

Though the Oregon crab season just like the California crab season legally opened Friday, several crabbers have broken away from the crabber group and laid pots.

About half a dozen boats from the Port of Brookings Harbor set gear in the last week, Brookings Fishermen's Marketing Association President Joe Speir said.

Though crabbers try to fish as a group in order to negotiate with processors for a better price, it is not illegal to crab without the group.

andquot;We're living with it,andquot; Speir said of those already fishing. andquot;There's a lot of guys that don't like that because we're supposed to be in this together.andquot;

The Oregon Department of Fish and Game reports show crab in the Brookings area are well above the legal meat-to-weight limit.

Wescom Wire Service reporter Tom Hubka contributed to this report.