OLYMPIA – With most areas of Puget Sound set to open for sport crabbing July 1, fishery managers are reminding crab fishers that they have an important role to play in accounting for the annual harvest.
By law, all sport crabbers -- regardless of age – who fish for crab in Puget Sound must carry, maintain and return a catch record card, which provides an ongoing account of all Dungeness crab they catch.
“Accurate catch data has become more critical each year as more people enter the sport fishery,” said Rich Childers, shellfish policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “Fishery managers rely on catch information reported by sport crabbers just as they depend on fish tickets to track the commercial catch.”
Catch record cards are available online via WDFW’s website (https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov) and from license dealers throughout the state.
Sport crabbers are already logging catches in three areas of Puget Sound that opened June 18. Those waters include marine areas 4 (Neah Bay east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line), 5 (Sekiu) and 13 (south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge), all of which will remain open for crabbing seven days per week through Feb. 28.
Eight more areas will open to crab fishing July 1, including 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).
Crab fishing in those areas will be limited to Wednesdays through Saturdays, with the following exceptions:
- Marine areas 6, 7 South, 9, 10, 11 and 12 will be open to crab fishing every day from July 1-8, before switching to the Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule.
- Marine areas 8-1 and 8-2 will be open July 1-2, close July 3-4, then resume on a Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule.
- All eight areas with a July 1 starting date will be open for crab fishing the entire Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4, before closing for a catch assessment. Fishing will resume in areas where the catch quota has not been met on dates to be announced.
Childers noted that the extra fishing days in July are not reflected in the WDFW Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations), which was published before the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the extra days.
Two other marine areas near the San Juan Islands, where the crab have a later molting cycle, will open later in the summer. Marine Area 7 East will open from July 15 to Sept. 30 on a Wednesday-through-Saturday schedule, and Marine Area 7 North will open from Aug. 16 to Sept. 30 on the same schedule. However, as with other waters of Puget Sound, both of those areas will be open to crab fishing the entire Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-4.
Like last year, the daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five male Dungeness crab with a shell width measuring at least 6¼ inches, plus six red rock crab of either sex with a shell width of at least 5 inches. All undersized crab, female Dungeness crab and all softshell crab of either sex must be returned to the water.
To participate in the fishery, all crab fishers age 15 or older must obtain and carry a current Washington fishing license. In addition, all crabbers – regardless of age – must obtain and carry a catch record card and a crab licensing endorsement to fish for crab in Puget Sound. The crab endorsement costs $3 for crabbers age 15 and over, but is free to fishers under age 15.
Anyone who fishes for crab without carrying a catch record card is subject to a fine of $80, Childers said.
On the other hand, those who can cite the identification number on their card when contacted by phone about their catch totals will qualify for a random drawing for 10 free combination fishing licenses. At least twice during the upcoming season, 6,000 Puget Sound recreational crabbers will be contacted about the totals on their cards to assess the progress of the fishery, Childers said.
Those fishing in Hood Canal are also asked to report any Dungeness crab bearing a bright green tag on the underside of their shell. The tagging study is part of a research project designed to gain a better understanding of crab movement in relation to low dissolved oxygen events in southern Hood Canal, said Therese Cain, a WDFW crab biologist.
Sport or tribal fishers who catch a crab bearing the distinctive green tag are asked to call the department toll free at (866) 859-8439 and report the tag number along with the date, location, and depth of capture.
Fishers are free to keep tagged, legal-sized male crab during open periods, but are asked to report the tag information from those crab. However, tags should not be removed from crab – such as female, softshell or undersized crab – that cannot legally be retained and must be returned to the water, Cain said.