OLYMPIA - Fishing rules for this year's recreational crabbing season in Puget Sound will be the focus of a special meeting by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission scheduled May 14 in Tumwater.
The meeting, which will include an opportunity for public comments, will begin at 9 a.m. at the Tyee Center, 5757 Littlerock Road S.W., Tumwater.
In preparation for action by the commission, shellfish managers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will discuss current trends in the fishery and outline several management options for the upcoming season.
A major goal of all those options - which could include shorter seasons, smaller daily bag limits or fewer fishing days per week - is to hold the recreational catch within the allocation policy established by the commission, said Lisa Veneroso, WDFW shellfish policy coordinator.
As recreational crabbing has grown in popularity, the sport catch in Puget Sound has more than doubled over the past decade, according to WDFW harvest estimates. Each year since 2000, the sport fishery has exceeded its share of the harvest, reducing the amount of crab available to commercial fisheries, Veneroso said.
"The mounting catching power of the sport fishery has made it increasingly difficult for the department to meet the policy intent established by the commission," Veneroso said. "We can't manage the fishery under the same rules and seasons as last year and expect different results."
During the 2004 fishery, recreational crabbers caught 1.6 million pounds of the state's four million-pound harvest share.
Under the commission's allocation policy, recreational crabbers have an exclusive opportunity to harvest the state's share of the crab in southern Puget Sound and Hood Canal. In northern Puget Sound, the non-tribal share is divided between commercial and recreational crabbers, whose share ranged by area from 17 percent to 45 percent in 2004.
WDFW's Puget Sound Recreational Crab Advisory Group, an eight-member citizen panel that advises the department on recreational crabbing issues, advocates reallocating a portion of the commercial catch in northern Puget Sound to sport crabbers. The department's seven-member Commercial Crab Advisory Group opposes any reallocation of the catch.
During their presentation at the start of the meeting, WDFW shellfish managers will outline several possible options for holding the recreational catch within the allocation policy adopted by the commission in 2000. The option preferred by the department was specifically designed to avoid sharp reductions in the length of this year's recreational crab seasons, Veneroso said.
Provided the crab have finished molting by the dates indicated, WDFW's preferred option would include the following provisions:
- The current daily bag limit would be reduced from six crab to four crab in all areas of Puget Sound to extend the season.
- In Marine Areas 4 and 5 (the Strait of Juan de Fuca) and in Marine Area 13 (southern Puget Sound), the fishery would open June 18 seven days per week
- Fishing would be limited to four days per week - Wednesday through Saturday - in all other areas. Most of those areas would open July 1, although 7E (Bellingham Bay) would open July 16 and 7N (north of the San Juan Islands) would open Aug. 16.
- Fishing in most areas would close Sept. 5, at the end of the Labor Day weekend, for an assessment of the catch.
"The proposed closure after the Labor Day weekend would have dual benefits," Veneroso said. "First, it would allow WDFW staff to get a good read on the catch-to-date, helping to prevent the sport fishery from exceeding its allocation. Second, it should allow us to reopen crab fisheries in some areas in fall and winter, as many recreational crabbers have requested."
Other options developed for consideration by the commission have higher bag limits, but would likely preclude reopening areas for sport crabbing in the fall and winter, Veneroso said.
Anyone wishing to testify at the May 14 commission meeting must sign up at the registration table by 11 a.m.
Written comments will be accepted through May 11. Comments should be addressed to Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091 or sent via email to: email@example.com.