Statewide gear rules

Gear limits

One star trap, one ring net, or one pot is considered one unit of gear. The maximum number of units of gear that may be fished per person is:

Puget Sound 

Puget Sound waters include Marine Area 4 east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line, and marine areas 5-13. 

  • Shrimp: Two pots per person, and no more than 4 shrimp pots may be onboard or fished by any one boat at a time.
  • Crab: Two units of crab gear per person, and no limit on the number of units of crab gear per boat.

Coastal Waters 

Coastal waters include Marine Area 4 west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line, and marine areas 1-3.

  • Shrimp/Crab: Two units of crab and/or shrimp gear per person. Exception: Columbia River - three units of crab gear per person.


  • Crawfish: Five units of gear per person.

General gear rules

Every shellfish pot, ring net, or star trap left unattended in Washington waters must have its own buoy line and a separate buoy that is permanently and legibly marked with the operator’s first name, last name, and permanent address (telephone number is voluntary). It is illegal to pull unattended shellfish gear with a buoy that does not have your name on it, and only one name and address may appear on each buoy. Any angler may assist the person whose name is on the buoy while he or she is pulling the pot. No fisher may set or pull shellfish gear from a vessel, in Catch Record Card Areas 1-13, from one hour after official sunset to one hour before official sunrise. All shellfish gear must be removed from the water on closed days.

Buoys must be constructed of durable material (no bleach, antifreeze, detergent bottles, paint cans, etc.) and must be visible on the surface at all times except during extreme tidal conditions. Personal flags and staff, if attached to buoys, can be of any color. Buoy lines must be weighted sufficiently to prevent them from floating on the surface.

All crab, shrimp, and crawfish pots must be equipped with a biodegradable device (rot/escape cord) and shall include one or more of the following:

  1. Securing the pot lid hook or tie down strap with a single loop of "rot" cord; or
  2. Sewing a 3" by 5" escape panel in the upper half of pot closed with "rot" cord; or
  3. Attaching the pot lid or one pot side (serving as a pot lid) with no more than three single loops of cord.

"Rot" cord used must be untreated 100% cotton or other natural fiber (hemp, jute, or sisal) no larger than thread size 120. This cord, when attached as described above, must be able to rot away and allow crab, shrimp, crawfish and fish to escape freely if the pot is lost. A derelict crab pot without proper escape cord can attract and kill crabs for years after the pot has been lost.

Crab gear

The minimum mesh size for crab pots is 1½", and all pots must have two 4¼" minimum inside diameter escape rings in the upper half of the pot, except in the Columbia River where the minimum ring size is 4" inside diameter.

All parts of ring nets and star traps must lie flat on the sea bottom and may not restrict free movement of crab until lifted. Shellfish pots must be covered by water at all times while being fished.
Crab pots must not exceed 13 cubic feet.

All crab gear buoys must be half red and half white in color, and both colors need to be visible when fishing.

Shrimp gear

Pots must be constructed of either flexible or rigid mesh material (no liners allowed). Entrance tunnels can be made of any size mesh material but must be located on the sides of the pot. The sum of the maximum tunnel widths must not exceed one-half the perimeter of the bottom of the pot. Shrimp pots must not exceed 10 feet in perimeter and 18" in height. All shrimp pot buoys must be yellow in color.

Shrimp pot mesh size

1" Minimum Mesh Size

A ⅞" square peg must be able to pass through each mesh opening – see diagram, except for flexible (web) mesh pots, where the opening must be a minimum of 1 ¾" stretch measure.

Puget Sound: Required for all shrimp pots during the month of May.
Required in all areas open for spot shrimp after June 1st.
Pacific Ocean: Required year-round; Shoreward of 20 fathoms, the minimum mesh size for shrimp pots is 1/2-inch; Seaward of 20 fathoms, the minimum mesh size for shrimp pots is 1 inch.

1/2" Minimum Mesh Size

A ⅜" square peg must be able to pass through each mesh opening, except for flexible (web) mesh pots, where the opening must be a minimum of 1⅛" stretch measure.

Puget Sound: Allowed after June 1st in any area closed for spot shrimp, but open for coonstripe and pink shrimp.

Caution: Sportfishing rules for crab, shrimp, and crawfish are subject to change based on allocation and/or soft shell conditions. Check the Shellfish Rule Change toll-free Hotline, (866) 880-5431; the WDFW website, or watch your local media for potential changes. See individual species listings crab; shrimp; or check statewide harvest rules for crawfish) for seasons and other harvest rules.

Not all shellfish gear sold in Washington meet the specifications shown on this page. Verify that your pot meets these requirements prior to use.

Diagram showing how to connect a buoy to a shrimp or crab pot
Photo by WDFW

Prevent gear loss

Lost pots continue to fish after they have been lost, killing aquatic life such as crab and shrimp until rot cord breaks down and releases the escape panel. It's also no fun to lose your fishing gear. Gear can be lost when it is placed too deep; when it is moved by wind, currents, or waves; due to entanglement with kelp, other gear, or vessels; or due to human error. Recommendations: Fishers can reduce risk of gear loss by properly weighting their pots (many stores sell pots without weights but all pots should be properly weighted); using an adequate length of line for the local depth and currents-- including extra line to account for currents (especially in areas of high tidal current); using sinking line or attaching sinkers to your lines; ensuring the buoy is attached correctly (flat side is the top of the buoy, domed side the bottom); using good knots when attaching lines and buoys; and being familiar with the local tide and current conditions on the day you are fishing. 

Learn more from our partners at the NW Straits Initiative.

Lost gear

To report lost shellfish gear, use the online reporting tool. If we can recover your gear and it is properly identified, we will attempt to return it. Do not attempt to salvage lost shellfish gear in Hood Canal without first getting a permit from the WDFW Enforcement Program at 360-902-2936.