Oregon Coast Crab Meat at Its Apex in Winter
(Newport, Oregon) - The central coast resort town of Newport, known as the “Dungeness Crab Capital of the World,” is experiencing the best crab meat of the year.
This time of year is typically when crab meat is at its fullest, as the crustaceans have gone through their molting process in the late summer and fall, and have filled out their new shells. This year, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) found that Oregon coast crabs had filled out a little earlier than the usual late November, which would bode well for meaty catches.
Catching the coveted crustaceans is open year round in the numerous Oregon coast bays and estuaries, but open ocean crabbing season started on December 1 this year, along with commercial crabbing season.
Brandon Ford, with the Newport office of ODFW, said while the crab meat is at its height, catching them is a little slow this year. “Few crabbers got limits in most of the bays surveyed, with most getting one or two crabs,” Ford said. “But when you get one or two crab it’s still fun.”
Ford said earlier in the fall is sometimes a better time to catch more, but they’re not filled out nearly as much and you’ll encounter plenty of undersized crab. The irony is that there are probably more of them in the summer and early fall, but the meat isn’t as good.
The thick, full crabmeat will last until early summer, Ford said. But they are fatter before and after the molting season.
“I don’t think anyone could tell the difference between a crab caught now verses one caught in, say, July,” Ford said. “You may, however, be able to tell the difference between one caught in October or November and one caught in January.”
It's a long process the little critters go through, but the result is tastier for the human folk.
“When crabs molt they pull out of their shell and, before their new shell hardens, they pump up their new shell with water so it expands,” Ford said. “So they have the same amount of muscle and meat in a larger shell. It usually takes a couple of months - depending on the food supply - for the crab to fill out or grow enough muscle to fill the shell. Off the Oregon coast, most male crab are full of meat by about December 1. This year it was a little earlier; some years it’s a little later. Once they are filled out they stay filled out until they molt again in late summer.”
The opening of deep sea crabbing for private citizens opens up new possibilities for sport fishermen of all types.
“When ocean conditions permit, anglers can combine crabbing and bottom fishing in one trip,” Ford said. “I believe there are more people looking for those opportunities.”
There are, of course, a limited number of nice, calm days for this endeavor, but Ford said those hardy souls interested in this adventurous form of crabbing are growing in numbers – and they are often rewarded.
Newport alone has dozens of crabbing spots along the enormous Yaquina Bay, where crabbing is allowed year round. It’s also known as the “Dungeness Crab Capitol of the World,” partially because the area’s fishing fleet has broken many records for crab hauls in recent years.
Other Oregon coast bays provide plenty of crabbing opportunities, such as Nehalem Bay, Tillamook Bay, Waldport’s Alsea Bay, the Siuslaw River (at Florence), Netarts Bay, Nestucca Bay and Seaside’s Necanicum River and bay. There, the 12 Ave. Bridge is a hotbed for fishermen, with their lines looped over the railings. But crabbing is hot here as well.
"You can crab in Young's Bay or out of Hammond, but you need a boat," said Keith Chandler, manager of Seaside Aquarium. "The 12th Avenue Bridge is popular because you need a boat in the Necanicum Bay, and restrooms and all sorts of other conveniences are nearby."
In some of these bays, red crab can be caught as well.
Ford stressed that the bays are still the best place to find the Dungeness crab, especially for those new to the sport. He pointed to one special spot in South Beach in Yaquina Bay, where crabbing is prime – the long dock that stretches a couple hundred feet out into the bay.
For the adventurer, however, there are about ten charter boat services running out of Yaquina Bay, many of which provide deep-sea fishing and crabbing opportunities.
Crabbers snagged 12.3 million pounds of the critters last year in Oregon, say state officials.
Ford said he’s seen some great conditions in the last two years that could mean good things for future crab populations. Nutrient levels have been awesome in that time, which spell the possibility of many newborn crab and other species.
“I expect in the next two, three years a bumper crop of rockfish, salmon, coho and crab,” Ford said.