OLYMPIA – Enforcement officers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are now taking a harder line when they catch recreational crabbers fishing during closed periods.
The warning was prompted by the marine patrol’s encounters with hundreds of crabbers found fishing Sunday, July 3 in areas of Puget Sound closed to crab fishing.
The recreational crab season opened July 1 in eight areas of Puget Sound where this year’s fishery is restricted to Wednesdays though Saturdays.
The only three areas in Puget Sound where crabbing is open seven days per week are marine areas 4 (Neah Bay), 5 (Sekiu) and 13 (south Puget Sound).
Although this year’s crab-fishing schedule was announced by WDFW and the news media six weeks before the season began, marine patrols encountered hundreds of crabbers fishing illegally in waters ranging from Hood Canal to the San Juan Islands.
“Some crab fishers apparently didn’t get the message about the new rules,” said Capt. Mike Cenci, who heads WDFW’s marine enforcement division. “We gave a lot of people the benefit of the doubt last Sunday, but we’re going to take a harder line next week.”
In all, about 200 citations and at least twice that many warnings were issued July 3 for a variety of related offenses, Cenci said. Under state law, anyone fishing in closed waters is subject to a $100 fine, plus a penalty of $25 for each fish or shellfish in their possession and potential forfeiture of their fishing gear.
The eight areas of Puget Sound now open to crabbing on a Wednesday-through- Saturday basis are marine areas 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), 7 South (San Juan Islands), 8-1 (Deception Pass to East Point), 8-2 (East Point to Possession Point), 9 (Admiralty Inlet) 10 (Seattle/Bremerton), 11 (Tacoma/Vashon) and 12 (Hood Canal).
Marine Area 7 East (Bellingham Bay/Samish Bay) will open on the same schedule July 16, followed by Marine Area 7 North (Point Roberts) on Aug. 17.
One exception to the four-day fishing schedule in those areas is Labor Day weekend, when crab fishing will be open for the entire three-day holiday weekend.
In all cases, crabbers are prohibited from setting or pulling their gear from a vessel from one hour after official sunset until one hour before official sunrise. In addition, all fishing gear must be removed from the water by one hour after sunset on the last day of any fishing period.
This year’s fishing rules were adopted May 14 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, which approved four-day-per-week seasons in many areas of Puget Sound to help extend crabbing opportunities into late summer.
Although the new seasons were approved after publication of WDFW’s Fishing in Washington regulation pamphlet, they were publicized by WDFW through statewide news releases, the department’s website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/shelfish/crabreg/) and its toll-free Shellfish Hotline (866-880-5431). They were also widely publicized by western Washington news media, Cenci said.
“As with all fisheries, crabbers are responsible for knowing the rules before they get out on the water,” Cenci said. “Then again, we encountered one guy fishing on Sunday who said he didn’t care what the regulations were. That just makes giving someone a citation a lot easier.”