History, management, and regulations

Puget Sound is home to state and tribal fleets of commercial vessels. The state commercial crab fleet is limited to about 250 licenses. Information on Tribal fishing in Puget Sound is available through the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Most of the Puget Sound fishery for Dungeness crab takes place from Everett northward, with the bulk of the harvest in the Blaine/Point Roberts area. Other specific areas that produce large commercial quantities of crab include Bellingham, Samish, Padilla, Skagit, and Dungeness Bays; Port Gardner and Port Susan. Puget Sound crabbers typically use smaller boats and lighter pots than crabbers on the open coast.

Limited entry

To keep the fishery economically viable for those participating, the legislature limited the state commercial crab fishery in Puget Sound to 250 licenses in 1980 (each license is allowed to use 100 crab pots). No new licenses have been issued since 1980, and in 2019 the state commercial fishery was comprised of 132 crab fishers holding the 250 licenses.


Most regions within Puget Sound are managed with a preseason quota that is based on past harvest amounts. There are provisions for adjustment if early season landings indicate an adjustment is warranted. Annual landings for the state commercial fishery in Puget Sound from 1984 through 1993 averaged 1.8 million pounds. Annual landings for the state commercial fishery in Puget Sound from 1993 through 2001 averaged 2.3 million pounds. Annual landings for the state commercial fishery in Puget Sound from 2002-2018 averaged 2.75 million pounds.

Rules and regulations


Management of the Dungeness crab fishery within Washington State changed substantially in 1995. That year the 9th Circuit Court, in an order known as the Rafeedie Decision, made it's decision regarding the Stevens Treaties signed between the United States and certain Tribes in the territory back in the 1850s. The federal court required that the harvestable surplus of shellfish in Washington be allocated equally (50/50) between the Treaty Tribes and State fisheries.

About Dungeness crab

The Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) is one of the most popular items on Washington seafood menus. Dungeness crab is found in commercial quantities from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to central California.

Dungeness crab got its common name from a small fishing village (Dungeness) on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington where the first commercial fishing was done for this species. The Dungeness crab fishery is said to be the oldest known shellfish fishery of the North Pacific coast. A small fishery on the West Coast began in 1848 and grew through the late 1800s. It is the only commercially important crab within Washington's territorial waters.