ASTORIA, Ore. -- Turn the clock back to early December of last year for the North Coast Dungeness crab fleet and the picture was pretty bleak.
First, it was the crab -- they weren't consistently full of meat, all up and down the coast -- and so crab fishermen waited an extra two weeks to start the season.
Then, once the season got started, unforgiving storms rolled in through the rest of December.
For John Corbin of the Astoria Crab Marketing Association, and many Oregon crabbers, the outlook for the 2010-11 crab season wasn't bright.
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"At first, I was like, 'Whoa, this isn't good,' " he recalled.
They got pummeled by 65 miles per hour winds and were plagued by rain in the season's first few days. Corbin's own first picks -- the initial pots pulled up by North Coast crabbers -- were disappointingly light. Others were having similar experiences, he said.
But, before long, things shifted. Weather improved, and pots came up fuller.
"It just started getting better and better," Corbin said. In landings and value, this season will probably end up being very close to the last one, he added.
It's been a profitable season for Crab fishermen throughout Oregon, said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. Even with a few months to go, a look the numbers so far are impressive.
As of Monday, Oregon crabbers have landed about 20.3 million pounds of the state crustacean, quickly approaching last season's record total of 23.2 million pounds.
Even better news is this season's ex-vessel value -- at $45.1 million it has already eclipsed least year's $44.8 million total, Furman said. The season doesn't end until mid-August, though at this time of year volume coming in has slowed to a trickle.
Astoria-area processors have accepted close to 4.1 million pounds of crab, the third largest count of the Oregon ports. This year, Newport was at the top with more than 7.3 million pounds and Charleston wasn't far behind with 5.1 million pounds.
Astoria has had its turn on top, but this year the crab seemed to be more plentiful on the southern Oregon Coast, Corbin said.
"The conditions have been a little more right down there," he said.
The average price fishermen have been getting at the docks this season has been $2.20 per pound, up 27 cents from last year. That's money in the bank for fishermen, considering that everything they have to buy -- from fuel to bait to equipment -- has become more expensive.
The two record years have come on the tails of slower years, allowing Oregon crab to extend to overseas markets were it hadn't the reach before, Furman said. In the 2007-08 and the 2008-09 seasons, landings were roughly half of where they are now.