OLYMPIA – Recreational crabbers will have the fishery to themselves when the crab season opens June 21 on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Under an agreement reached last week between state and tribal fisheries managers, tribal fishers will wait until July 5 to start setting their commercial crab pots, giving sport fishers two weeks of exclusive fishing time.
The crab season for the non-tribal commercial fleet does not get under way until Oct. 1.
"Sport fishers will get a head start this year," said Rich Childers, a shellfish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "The crab are in great shape right now, so those first two weeks of fishing should be golden."
Childers said the two-week delay in tribal commercial crabbing is designed to give non-tribal sport fishers a better chance to catch their annual quota of crab this season. Last season, the recreational harvest in the Strait fell short of the quota – partly because of competition from state and tribal commercial vessels, he said.
The heaviest congestion occurs in protected bays favored by recreational crabbers, including Dungeness, Discovery and Sequim bays in the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, Childers said. "This year, non-tribal fishers will have those bays to themselves for two weeks," he said.
This year's combined state quota for all three management areas of the Strait (Marine Areas 4, 5 and 6) is 260,000 pounds of crab. The tribal quota in those three areas combined is 230,000 pounds.
The annual quotas, as well as fishing seasons, were approved last week by WDFW and treaty tribes as part of a joint management plan for crab in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Childers cautioned fishers that no crabbing is allowed in Marine Areas 4, 5 and 6 before June 21, regardless of gear type. However, most areas of Puget Sound, except areas 7 (San Juan Islands), 11 (near Tacoma) and 13 (near Olympia) are now open for crabbing.
Childers recommends that all crabbers review fishing rules for each area, as outlined in WDFW's Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet. He also recommends calling the department's toll-free Shellfish Hotline (1-866-880-5431) or checking WDFW's website for any updates.
Crabbers are required to record all catches on a Catch Record Card and return it to the department by April 30, 2003.
"Those catch cards provide us with the information we need to determine harvest levels and manage the crab fishery for the people of Washington state," Childers said.