OLYMPIA - The recreational crab fishery in the northern part of Marine Area 7 near Blaine and Birch Bay will open Aug. 16 and remain open until further notice, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced today.
Like the southern portion of Marine Area 7 near Bellingham and the San Juan Islands, which opened to crab fishing July 4, the northern area will be open seven days per week with a six-crab daily limit.
Following a pattern established in 1999, the northern portion of Marine Area 7 will be the last area of Puget Sound to open for recreational crab fishing, due to the molt cycle in that area, said Don Velasquez, WDFW shellfish biologist.
"For reasons unique to this area, legal-size crab in these waters harden up later in the year than those in the rest of Puget Sound," Velasquez said. "As soon as they reach the criteria established for shell hardness, we open the fishery. It's as simple as that."
Those criteria, established under an agreement with Puget Sound tribes in 1998, require that at least 80 percent of the crab - calculated as an average of all pots used in a test fishery - be in hard-shell condition. The primary goal of that policy has been to reduce handling mortality for crab while they are in soft-shell condition, Velasquez said.
The first area to meet the shell-hardness criteria this year was the southern portion of Marine Area 8-2 near Everett, which opened for crab fishing May 16 on a Friday-through-Monday basis. With the projected sport catch fast approaching the area quota, WDFW closed crab fishing in the southern portion of Area 8-2 on Aug. 11 and has announced plans to close the remainder of that area and Marine Area 8-1 on Sept. 2.
Those areas may reopen later this year if catch-record-card data indicate that more crab remains to be taken under area quotas.
By contrast, a test fishery in the northern portion of Marine Area 7 completed July 23 found that only 68 percent of the crab sampled met the criteria for shell hardness. Crab sampled in a second test fishery conducted the following week also fell short of the standard. Not until Tuesday (Aug. 12), when state and tribal shellfish managers sampled crab from 50 test pots throughout the area, did the proportion of hard-shell crab exceed the 80-percent benchmark.
"The criteria approved by the state and the tribes give us a solid, scientific basis for making management decisions," said Lisa Veneroso, WDFW shellfish policy adviser. "The criteria used to determine openings in the northern part of Marine Area 7 are the same ones used everywhere else in Puget Sound."
Velasquez noted that the timing of recreational crab openings during the past four years in the northern portion of Marine Area 7 have been surprisingly consistent. Based on shell hardness, fisheries opened Aug. 7 in 1999, Aug. 19 in 2000, Aug. 4 in 2001 and Aug. 24 in 2002.
"For whatever reason, it's clear that the molt ends later in these northern waters," Velasquez said. "The good news for recreational crab fishers is that the fishery extends further into the next calendar year."