Oregon's Dungeness crab catch expected to fall this year as fisherman say they've already caught most crabs of legal size

COOS BAY, Oregon , December 30, 2011 () – This year's catch of Dungeness crab off the Oregon coast is expected to be down, which could mean higher prices after the holidays.

The fishing weather since the season began has been good, and crabbers believe they already have hauled in much of the catch that's reached legal size, according to The World newspaper in Coos Bay.

"Initially, everyone was happy," said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Association. "... Then they went out and started fishing ..."

Demand for live crab is high in Asia, but California and Washington coasts are closed to crabbers as wildlife officials wait for crab to reach a legal size.

Oregon crabbers negotiated with processors for a locked-in price during the early part of the season, when Dungeness crab is a holiday delicacy. The agreement contained a price bump for the crabbers.

Furman said the situation strains a 9-year-old system in Oregon where fishermen's associations and processors negotiate a crucial opening price for the season, with the Oregon Department of Agriculture overseeing the process.

Near Coos Bay, about 70 percent of the fishermen in Charleston belong to a fishing association bound to this year's agreement - the rest would be free to sell to independent "live buyers," who are showing up along the Oregon coast earlier than usual, said Furman.

The locked-in price expires Jan. 4.The Department of Agriculture doesn't have the authority to punish crabbers who violate the agreement, he said, and any discipline would be according to the bylaws of the individual associations.

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