Abstract For 12 yr (1997–2001, 2006–2012) daily abundance of Cancer magister megalopae was measured in Coos Bay, Oregon. Before 2007 from 2000 to 80 000 megalopae were caught annually. In 2007, catch jumped and
has since varied from 164 000 to 2.3 million. The step change in catch size appears related to a shift to negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values. Late season catches, which cannot be due to local spawning, are negatively correlated to the PDO, suggesting that these megalopae
derive from north of the California Current. During periods of lower and higher catches, annual returns of megalopae were significantly negatively correlated to the day of the year of the spring transition and positively correlated to the amount of upwelling during the settlement season. The
size of the Oregon commercial catch lagged 4 yr to allow for growth of recruits into the fishery is set by the number of returning megalopae; the relationship is parabolic. At lower returns, the population is recruitment limited, but at higher returns, density‐dependent effects
predominate and set the commercial catch. Lagged commercial catches in Washington and Northern and Central California were also related to the number of megalopae returning to Coos Bay, suggesting that the forces causing variation in larval success are coast wide. If high return rates are
due to a PDO regime shift, then for years to decades the commercial catch may be set by density‐dependent effects following settlement and the huge numbers of returning megalopae may impact benthic community structure.