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Northern California commercial crab season delayed a second time

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California Fish and Wildlife officials have delayed the start of commercial Dungeness crab fishing north of Sonoma County for a second time this year after routine testing showed the crab aren’t meaty enough to be harvested yet.

It will be at least New Year’s Eve before crabbers can range north of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line in search of the lucrative crustaceans already being caught in areas to the south, the agency said.

The highly regulated fishery opens to commercial crabbers Nov. 15 most years off the Sonoma Coast and in more southerly waters off San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, though the past two seasons have been disrupted by an algae-related toxin. This fall was the first time in three years that the season opened on time.

The northern season was scheduled to open Dec. 1, conditional upon a minimum meat recovery rate from tested samples of Dungeness crab.

Underweight samples checked in November prompted a 15-day delay in the Northern California season. Additional samples tested Dec. 5 weren’t sufficiently filled out either, officials said.

A further round of testing is scheduled next week to determine if another delay will be required, though the agency can not open the fishery any later than Jan. 15. At this point, commercial crabbers have been advised they can begin setting traps at 8:01 a.m. Dec. 28.

Fish and Wildlife Environmental Scientist Christy Juhasz said low meat recovery in crab tested so far could be a sign of abundance and high competition for food in the Northern California fishery.

She said anecdotal reports from Sonoma County and points south, in contrast, suggest the area’s catch for this season may be smaller than the above-average harvests of recent years.

About 3.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab, worth more than $10 million, were landed in Bodega Bay last year, according to state data.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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