Crabbing off Seattle, Shoreline, Bainbridge Island and on the rest of the Central Sound’s Marine Area 10 wraps up after Aug. 3, WDFW is reminding shellfishers.
That’s a month earlier than usual and due to a bit of an overharvest last summer, according to state shellfish biologist Don Velasquez.
The 2018 quota was 40,000 pounds, but crabbers harvested more than 46,000 pounds, and so through “buyback provisions” in negotiated state-tribal agreements, that dropped this year’s allowable take to 33,212 pounds, he says.
Velazquez says that that mark is modeled to be met at the end of this coming Saturday.
It’s possible that with last year’s Area 11 and 13 closures more South Sound crabbers hit Area 10, driving up the catch, but there could be also good news on the horizon for Tacoma and Olympia Dungeness lovers.
“I think there is some hope” for next season, Velazquez says.
They’ve been closed since 2018 to rebuild abundances that crashed in recent years, possibly due to overly warm waters, north-south larval transport issues, and/or overharvest.
According to a WDFW presentation last year, two entire back-to-back year-classes of crabs that represented Dungies that would have been legal-sized for sport and tribal fishermen in 2017 and 2018 were “missing, not detected.”
The year-class that would have been legal this summer 2019 were also said to be “greatly reduced.”
“It usually takes four years for crabs to reach legal size,” Velasquez says, and next year’s harvestable Dungeness would have been born after The Blob abated and waters cooled in the South Sound.
Still, the state and tribal closures to rebuild abundance weren’t stopping some scofflaw(s) who recently hung several pots in Vashon and Maury Islands’ Quartermaster Harbor tethered to duck decoys to try and keep the illicit activity on the downlow.
But the — literally — odd ducks only served to attract the eyes of a watchful WDFW marine patrol officer who spotted the “out-of-place” fowl on the water.
While crabbing will continue as usual on its Thursday-Monday schedule elsewhere in Puget Sound, a larger than usual number of recently molted shellfish are being also reported.
“We’re running into a lot of soft-shells,” confirms Velasquez, “particularly in Areas 8-1 and 8-2.”
As hard-shelled crabs are harvested through tribal and state seasons, the percentage of soft-shelled ones, which must go back in the water regardless of whether they’re legal or not, can rise as the crabs grow, doff their old shell, and regrow a new one.
The biologist points to page 132 of the fishing pamphlet for the best ways to determine the status of crabs — pushing the abdomen, the shell next to the mouth or the first segment of the first walking leg.
“They shouldn’t ‘pop can’ in with finger pressure. They should be rock hard,” Velasquez says.
WDFW says that soft-shelled crabs have less meat than they do when in hard-shell condition, and it is of “lower quality” too.
As for recent reports, Northwest Sportsman sources report “good” to “hit and miss” crabbing in the San Juans.
Marine Area 7 South is open through Sept. 30, while 7 North opens Aug. 15 through the end of September.
And crabbing is open through Labor Day in Areas 4, 5, 6, 8-1 and 8-2, 9, and Area 12 north of Ayock Point.
Only male Dungeness a minimum of 6 1/4 inches across the back can be kept; male or female red rocks 5 or more inches across the back can be retained.