Tag Archives: red rock crabs

Crabbing Reopens Today In Straits, North Sound

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Several marine areas of Puget Sound will reopen for recreational crab fishing on Oct. 1, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced.

The openings were approved by fishery managers after summer catch assessments by WDFW indicated additional crab are available for harvest during the late season.

PUGET SOUND AND STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA CRABBERS CAN HEAD BACK OUT SEVEN DAYS A WEEK STARTING OCT. 1, WDFW ANNOUNCED SEPT. 30. KIRAN WALGAMOTT SHOWS OFF ONE OF SEVERAL DUNGIES HE HAULED OUT OF THE WATERS OFF ANACORTES DURING THE SUMMER SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Waters reopening to sport crabbing Oct. 1 include marine areas 4 (Neah Bay, east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island, and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardiner), and 9 (Admiralty Inlet), except for waters south of a line from Olele Point to Foulweather Bluff.

In each area, crabbing will be allowed seven days a week through Dec. 31. Sport crabbers are reminded that setting or pulling traps from a vessel is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

Sport crabbing will not reopen for winter in marine areas 10 (Seattle Bremerton), 11 (Vashon Island), and 13 (South Puget Sound). It is still uncertain whether portions of marine areas 9 (Port Gamble/Port Ludlow) and 12 (Hood Canal – North of Ayock Point) will open for a shortened winter season. WDFW expects to announce a decision in the future on whether these areas will reopen.

The daily limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 1/4 inches. Crabbers may also catch six red rock crab of either sex per day with a minimum carapace width of 5 inches, and six Tanner crab of either sex with a minimum carapace of 4 1/2 inches. Additional information is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/crab.

You must have a Puget Sound Dungeness crab endorsement to harvest Dungeness crab from Puget Sound. All Dungeness crab caught in the late-season recreational fishery must be recorded immediately on winter catch record cards, which are valid through Dec. 31. Winter catch record cards are free to those with crab endorsements and are available at license vendors across the state.

Winter catch reports are due to WDFW by Feb.1, 2020.  For more information on catch record cards, visit WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/fishing/catch-record-card/dungeness.

Summer 2019’s Last Hurrah For Area 10 Crabbers Coming Up

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.

MARINE AREA 10 CRABBERS HAVE JUST ONE MORE OPENING LEFT IN THE SEASON, THIS COMING THURSDAY, FRIDAY AND SATURDAY. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

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.

(WDFW)

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.

Get a Free NewsLetter Here

High Number Of Lost Crab Pots Off Anacortes Highlights Problem

When the boys and I go up to Anacortes to crab with writer Wayne Heinz and Lucie Fritz, Wayne will tell us that on the mid-July opener it’s as easy as putt-putting a couple hundred yards out of Cap Sante Marina and sending down baited pots.

In late summer, when we go, we have to run further out to find plentiful Dungeness and red rocks, but Wayne’s observation of how popular and productive these close-in waters are was really in evidence a couple weeks ago on Facebook.

(NORTHWEST STRAITS INITIATIVE)

The Northwest Straits Initiative Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Project posted a map that showed the locations of 614 lost crab pots from just outside the marina east into Padilla Bay and north towards the western tip of Samish Island.

Discovered by sidescanning sonar, nearly all of the pots were in depths of less than 60 feet.

Crews have since begun to haul these up — some unfortunately still fishing with dead crabs as bait — and that was the subject of a story last night on KOMO News.

“It’s probably about the highest density we’ve seen. It’s a quite a big number,” Jason Morgan of the Northwest Straits Foundation told reporter Michelle Esteban.

HIGH NUMBERS OF LOST CRAB POTS WERE FOUND IN THE WATERS OUTSIDE CAP SANTE MARINA. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Morgan told her it’s a “perfect storm” of heavily trafficked waters — in addition to the marina, tankers deliver oil to the refinery and this is the northern end of the Swinomish Channel cutoff — strong tide swings through the islands and proximity to deeper waters.

No doubt that some pots are actually pilfered, but Esteban reports that crab cages are lost “mostly due to user-error — namely not weighting the pots, using the wrong line and unfamiliarity with tide and depth.”

When we go, before dropping pots, Wayne and Lucie keep a close eye on their Lowrance to note the depth and choose the right length of rope. They pick one that has plenty of scope to account for tide and current and thus will keep the pot on bottom while floating their oversized buoy. And then they put a waypoint on the map to return to.

WAYNE HEINZ AND RIVER WALGAMOTT SEND A CRAB POT INTO THE DEPTHS IN THE SAN JUANS. EXPERTS ADVISE USING LEADED ROPE, EXTRA LINE TO ACCOUNT FOR TIDES AND CURRENTS AND WEIGHTED POTS SO THAT IT’S LESS LIKELY POTS WILL BE LOST. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Yet as the old saying goes, stuff happens. WDFW reports that every year, crabbers lose 12,000 pots.

This is not to overlook the problem of derelict commercial gillnets. The Northwest Straits Initiative reports that at Point Roberts alone, “abandoned nets were destroying $437,000 worth of crab every season.”

But between all the lost pots just outside Anacortes and this summer’s closure at the other end of Puget Sound due to low numbers of Dungeness, it shows we need to be more careful with managing the fishery and how we’re fishing for them if we want to pass this tradition along to future generations.

A FULL POT IS A HAPPY POT, BUT A LOST POT CAN GO ON KILLING AS DEAD CRABS ATTRACT MORE CRABS THAT DIE AND ATTRACT MORE CRABS THAT … (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

To that end, the lost pot recoverers have kindly posted a series of videos with great tips on how to not only lose less gear but catch more crabs.

And if you do lose gear — again, stuff happens — or come across somebody else’s, there are no-fault reporting hotlines to call or enter locational information to make it easier to haul out of the depths so it doesn’t go on killing endlessly.

KIRAN WALGAMOTT SHOWS OFF A DRAWING OF A RED ROCK CRAB, WHICH HE LOVES TO TRY AND CATCH AS WELL AS EAT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Crabbing Won’t Open In South Sound This Summer

Bad news for Tacoma and Olympia crabbers: Marine Areas 11 and 13 won’t open for Dungeness — or even red rocks — this summer.

PUYALLUP’S JASON BROOKS PULLS A POT OFF FOX ISLAND DURING THE 2013 SEASON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Dungie numbers have crashed in recent years and state managers say the idea behind the full closure is to try and rebuild the populations.

Tribal commercial fisheries will also not open.

It’s unclear why the crabs are not doing well, but a recent presentation to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission pointed to three possibilities: excessive harvest, poor water conditions, and distance larva must ride currents to here from primary breeding areas.

That PDF also shows how bad it is.

Graphs in it show state and tribal crab harvest in Area 11, off Tacoma, peaked in 2014 at about 225,000 pounds, produced 200,000 in 2015, then dropped like a rock to 50,000 in 2016 and half that last year.

Similarly, Area 13, deep South Sound, peaked in 2012 at 300,000 pounds, but zipped downhill like a ski jumper to an almost negligible amount last year, 9,462 pounds, or one-tenth of one percent of all that were harvested in Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

WDFW GRAPHS SHOW HOW DUNGENESS HARVEST IN MARINE AREA 13 (CRAB AREA 7) AND AREA 11 (CRAB AREA 6) HAVE TANKED OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS. (WDFW)

Test fishing earlier this year found one legal Dungie a pot in Area 11 and maybe a quarter of one in 13.

On the flip side, those graphs also reveal the extreme spike in harvest, tripling and even quadrupling from the 100,000- and 50,000-pound ranges of the last decade.

A rather frightening graph WDFW also put together shows that two entire back-to-back year-classes of crabs are “missing, not detected.”

Those would be year 2 and year 3 Dungies.

Year 4 crabs — which would be legals in summer 2019 — are also said to be “greatly reduced.”

That means we may be in for a few years of rebuilding the stock.

“It is a very sad day when a family activity such as Puget Sound crabbing is shut down due to very foreseeable and predictable mismanagement,” said Puyallup shellfisherman and Northwest Sportsman contributor Jason Brooks. “Overharvest by other user groups and a lack of enforcement, along with winter and summer seasons, and it’s pretty apparent the crab numbers will dwindle.”

The last winter recreational season in Areas 11 and 13 occurred in 2015

Last year, as it became blindingly obvious there were very few Dungeness and even red rocks around the South Sound, crabber ire turned towards tribal fishermen who were said to have put out huge numbers of pots in recent years, perhaps a sign they were also having trouble finding legals.

Another theory revolves around The Blob years, 2014-15, and how high water temperatures as well as low dissolved oxygen levels could have negatively affected juvenile crabs.

The book The Highest Tide aside, because of the inland sea’s shape, the Tacoma Narrows restricts the flow of saltwater that might otherwise carry larval crabs into the South Sound. But it’s been like that since the end of the last ice age too.

Whatever the cause, it’s all leading state shellfish managers to take another look at how they manage crabs in South Sound.

Currently, it’s done with the 3-S model — restricting harvest by size, sex and season.

“The 3-S model of management was developed for open systems, such as coastal waters, where the effects of harvest are mitigated by regular larval production and recruitment,” says the WDFW presentation. “A confined system like South Puget Sound may need to incorporate a 4th metric, larval production and juvenile recruitment.”

“Shellfish populations become stressed when critically low density levels are reached, and reproductive success is greatly diminished,” it continues. “This is known as an Allee Effect. For Dungeness crab extremely low density could affect successful mating.”

WDFW had also considered just barring Dungie retention or reducing limits and seasons. It said that some recreational crabbers supported closing it down.

Crab seasons for the rest of Puget Sound are expected to be announced later this month after state and tribal managers agree to them. No other similar closures are expected, according to WDFW.

According to the agency, nearly 5.1 million pounds of crabs were harvested in the San Juan Islands last year (and who knows how many more from Canadian poachers), almost 3 million pounds worth in Areas 8-1, 8-2 and 9 alongside Whidbey and Camano Islands, and 864,000 pounds in Area 6, the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.

AN AUGUST 2017 WDFW GRAPH SHOWS STATE (GRAY) AND TRIBAL (BLUE) CRAB HARVEST OVER THE PREVIOUS 25 YEARS. THE STATE SHARE IS COMPRISED OF COMMERCIAL AND RECREATIONAL AND WAS DOMINATED BY THE FORMER UNTIL 2011 AND FAIRLY CLOSE EVER SINCE. (WDFW)