OLYMPIA – Hundreds of sport crabbers fishing in Puget Sound have been found violating state fishing regulations, and many are paying a high price for their catch.
Nearly half of the 996 crabbers contacted by state enforcement officers in early July were found to be in violation of at least one fishing regulation, said Chief Bruce Bjork, assistant director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement program.
Enforcement officers issued 180 citations and 284 verbal warnings during the first nine days of the crab fishery that opened July 1 in most areas of Puget Sound. Some crabbers were cited for multiple violations, ranging from keeping undersized crab to exceeding the daily catch limit.
Fines for most violations start at $75 and increase with each crab illegally harvested, said Capt. Mike Cenci, who heads the WDFW marine enforcement division.
“If someone fails to record catching a single crab while still on the water, they will usually get a warning,” Cenci said. “But if we find someone who has caught their entire daily limit and hasn’t recorded a single crab, that person is going to be cited.”
WDFW Director Jeff Koenings said the ratio of violations to contacts during the nine-day “emphasis patrol” in July was the highest he has seen in recent years.
“These compliance rates aren’t acceptable,” Koenings said. “People who violate the sportfishing rules need to understand that they are jeopardizing the resource and the future of the Puget Sound crab fishery.”
The department dedicated 16 officers and four boats to the nine-day emphasis patrol, which focused on marine waters from central Puget Sound to the San Juan Islands, Cenci said. Additional support was provided by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office marine unit, the Everett Police Department, the Seattle Police Harbor Patrol and the U.S. Navy.
While some officers have been drawn off to monitor the coastal salmon season, the Puget Sound crab fishery remains a high priority for fisheries enforcement, he said.
“Right now, we’re deploying as many officers to the crab fishery as we can, without neglecting our other responsibilities,” Cenci said.
Of the 464 violations observed by enforcement officers, nearly one-third were for crabbers’ failure to record the catch of Dungeness crab on catch record cards, as required by law. That’s a problem for fishery managers, who rely on that information to monitor harvest rates relative to area catch quotas, said Rich Childers, WDFW shellfish policy coordinator.
“Crabbers have a responsibility to keep their catch record cards up to date,” Childers said. “When we do in-season surveys, we don’t want people guessing about how many crab they caught or where they caught them.”
In addition, enforcement officers reported:
- 109 violations for undersized crab. In Puget Sound, only Dungeness crab at least 6¼ inches or larger can be harvested to allow smaller male crab the opportunity to mate at least once before they are taken in the fishery.
- 63 violations for crabbing on days or in areas closed to fishing. Crab fishing is closed Sundays through Tuesdays in many areas of Puget Sound. Crab pots must be removed from the water after each open period.
- 24 violations for fishing without a license or catch record card. All crab fishers age 15 or older must carry a current Washington fishing license. In addition, all sport crabbers, regardless of age, must carry a catch record card and crab licensing endorsement to fish for crab in Puget Sound.
- 15 violations for exceeding the daily catch limit, which is five legal-size male Dungeness crab, plus six red rock crab of either sex measuring at least five inches.
- Five violations for retaining female crab. Only male crab can be harvested, to protect egg-bearing females for reproduction.
Weeks before the season began, WDFW began publicizing crabbing regulations in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, news releases, public service announcements and a new sport-crabbing website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/shelfish/crab/lic_req.htm), Childers said.
“These rules are pretty straight-forward,” Childers said. “People who ignore them – or who never take time to learn them – are putting fishing seasons at risk for everyone.”