Washington’s coastal commercial Dungeness harvest won’t start until at least Dec. 16. The harvest was delayed to give more time for meat to form in the shells.

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The Washington coast commercial Dungeness crab harvest, once targeted for a Dec. 1 opening, will not start until at least mid-December to give more time for meat to form within shells.

The meat is supposed to account for at least 23 percent of the crab by weight. But during a November test fishery, the samples averaged less than 21 percent, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“There is time that is needed for the crab to fill out, and it’s a little hard to predict how quickly that will happen,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

More than 200 fishers hold permits for the coastal harvest, and they fish with baited pots set along the sea bottom. The harvest generally gets off to a fast start with most of the crab caught within the first eight weeks of the opening date, according to Ayres.

The Dungeness are prized eating, particularly during the holiday season. Last year, Washington’s commercial coastal fishermen, benefiting from high prices, earned a record $52 million, according to Ayers.

For those who don’t want to wait for their crab, there are Dungeness available from other markets, including tribal and Puget Sound commercial harvests that started earlier this fall.

But the Dungeness are pricey. At City Fish at Pike Place Market, Dungeness is now selling for $13 a pound, so a whole crab can cost $26 to $30, according to Jeff Pence, assistant manger at City Fish.

Pence says he’s excited for the coastal sea harvest to get underway, but he is not expecting the increased supply to bring down prices.

This year, crabbers have been relieved to find that the Dungeness off Washington have all tested at safe levels for domoic acid, a toxin that can be caused by a harmful algae bloom that was a problem in some years past.

“Recent test results indicate crabs along the Washington coast are currently safe to eat,” said a statement released Monday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The commercial crab harvest, once it begins, will stay open until Sept. 15. But the pace of the harvest slow downs dramatically during the summer months.