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Crabbers get fishin' so you can get crackin'.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - Oregon's most valuable fishing season is under way, and the first fat, succulent Dungeness crabs are trickling into the market.

But the season's opener has been anything but smooth, and crabbers say they're braving dangerous weather to snare their catch. Waves knocked a boat sideways at the Brookings bar last weekend, spilling nearly 300 crab pots into the ocean, Harbor Master Mike Blank said.

Another heavy storm is on its way, which has crabbers who did get out to set their pots nervous about what they will find when they return to pick up the bounty.

"The conditions are not nice, by any means," said Al Pazar, a Newport crabber and chairman of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

The weather is bad enough to keep much of the fleet in port, which has caused hard feelings among fishermen. Some argue that they should all agree on a start date, so small boats aren't pressured to go out in weather that larger boats can handle more easily.

Also, if the boats act as a unit, they have more power at the bargaining table with processors, who balked at the fleet's initial asking price this season of $1.85 per pound and then demanded more crab tests before settling on $1.60.

Those tests came back last week with good results, Pazar said, but by then, there was only enough time to drop pots - not haul them in. Many crabbers south of Coos Bay chose to stay put.

"It's like if you tried to get all the newspapers together to put the comics on Page 13," Pazar said. "It's a rugged, rough start to the season."

Pazar dropped 500 pots over the weekend but has yet to haul them in and doesn't know when the weather will let him. He's hoping for a break next week.

South of Port Orford, boats have agreed to start at the same time, said Rick Lilienthal, a Charleston crabber. It's a gentleman's agreement that was supposed to apply to the whole coast.

"As soon as a couple guys left out of Coos Bay it just blew to pieces," said Lilienthal, who set 180 pots on Saturday.

There is fresh Oregon crab in the market, thanks to some boats that hauled in their gear right away or started fishing closer to Dec. 1, the season's official start date. But it's not easy to find, said Ryan Rogers, owner of the Fisherman's Market in Eugene.

"Every year it's something new," Rogers said. "My motto is, `It's always crab season somewhere, and I'm going to have crab.' I went to Bodega Bay this year for Thanksgiving. It's a mess. I feel so sorry for these guys."

Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030.
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Title Annotation:Business; Despite dangerous weather, the fleet is at work and the delicacy is coming to stores
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 13, 2006
Words:461
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