Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Hope remains that bottom line will not be impacted

The opening day for the commercial Dungeness crab season in Northern California, Oregon and Washington has been delayed to at least Dec. 16 due to early signs of underweight crabs.

Crab quality tests taken in late October and early November indicate that crabs off the coast of Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino counties will not have 25 percent meat mass by the scheduled Dec. 1 opener.

The crustaceans are being given a little more time to fatten up in order for commercial fishermen to be able to catch a better product.

The commercial season opened today from Half Moon Bay to Bodega Bay, with fishermen agreeing on a negotiated opening price of $3 per pound, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Crabs tested from the Crescent City area on Oct. 21 were 15.5 percent meat mass and 16.1 percent on Nov. 5, growing only 0.6 percent in two weeks. That's much slower than crabs typically grow during good conditions, which is one percentage point per week.

"We already knew that conditions weren't that great based on what they started at during the first tests," said Pete Kalvass, senior marine biologist with California Department of Fish and Game, the department's lead expert on the Dungeness crab fishery.

Recreational crab fishermen in Crescent City have noticed the obviously light-on-meat crabs.

"There's a high probability that (the delay) will go beyond 15 days," Kalvass said.

Crabs can molt at different times of year depending on environmental factors like the upwelling of ocean nutrients and the amount of food on the ocean floor, Kalvass said.

Last year, the Dungeness season experienced the longest delay in at least 20 years, getting pushed to Jan. 15 - the longest the delay that fishery managers can issue.

"Waiting didn't seem to hurt anybody in any way last year - in fact it seemed to help," Kalvass said, referencing the record opening price of $3 per pound received by Northern California fishermen and a record year for pounds of Dungeness landed in California with 31,680,250 pounds.

More quality tests will be conducted during the first week of December and fishery managers will make an announcement shortly after as to whether or not the season will be delayed further.

Reach Adam Spencer