Crabbing The Sound? Know Rules Before You Go

Page through the fishing regs and there’s a chance you’ll flip right past the Dungeness section.

Where almost every other species we chase around the Northwest has increasingly convoluted and hard to understand restrictions that require reams of paper to explain – adipose fins verboten this day but OK the next, barbless hooks not allowed here but fine next door, fishing closed unless open here but open unless closed there, special nets and gasless engines only on this lake, selective gear on this river stretch but bait OK below there, only left-handed anglers allowed on second Tuesdays yada, yada, yada – the crab compendium is refreshingly simple.

That’s because, well, crabbing for Dungeness is pretty damned basic.

No matter which bay you’re on, you haul up your trap, check to see if your catch is male (females go back) and measure across its back to see if it’s wide enough.

If you get two yesses in a row, you and Donald the Dungie have a dinner date.

A BIGGER SHARE OF THE ALLOCATION HAS PUGET SOUND CRABBERS EXCITED, BUT IT ALSO COMES WITH REQUESTS FROM WDFW AND THE SPORTFISHING INDUSTRY TO PLEASE KNOW AND FOLLOW THE RULES -- OUR FLEET IS ON "PROBATION" AS THE FISH & WILDLIFE COMMISSION WILL BE CHECKING IN TO SEE WHETHER "COMPLIANCE" HAS INCREASED. (STEVE MCNULLY)

While the Washington Department of Fish & Wildife’s pamphlet is currently at 140 pages, it only needs a single one (136) to set out those simple edicts – “and half of that is a picture,” notes Rich Childers, WDFW’s Puget Sound shellfish manager.

ODFW’s book has crab identification tips and regs on two different pages (98 and 104), but requires even less ink to do so.

SO WHY IN HELL am I writing about this then?

Because somehow crabbing has one of the highest violation rates of all fisheries. Shellfishers keep females, retain undersized males, and in Puget Sound forget to pull out their catch record card and record legals – or don’t have one altogether.

Some of it is blatant poaching, but there’s also just a lot of unfamiliarity with the rules, says Childers.

In the lead up to July’s openers in Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and parts of the San Juans and Strait of Juan de Fuca, he and Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association have been on an outreach tour to better educate local crabbers. WDFW also fired off a press release today and has amped up its crabbing page.

The effort follows the Fish & Wildlife Commission’s decision last October to increase the sport fishery by a day and run it as a set season instead of under a quota.  As part of that, the commission will also get annual briefings on how well we do following the rules.

“It’s safe to say they expect an increase with the outreach,” Childers says.

“We’re on probation,” adds Floor, the NMTA’s fishing affairs director. “It’s up to all of us to educate everyone on the water.”

Mike Cenci and his crew of wardens will also be out on the salt running emphasis patrols in July and August, but WDFW is also sending out a pair of brochures to crabbers with info on how to sex, measure and record legal crabs.

“You don’t need a Ph.D. to understand the rules, just take some time to read them,” Floor says. “We’d like to keep this increased allocation and move forward with other species. We’ve got to do better and we’re being watched.”

With something on the order of a quarter million crab endorsements sold annually, he considers the fishery “critically imporant” for the future of the sportfishing industry.

Childers also emphasizes the importance of reporting your catch – “even if you don’t go or don’t catch any, the zeros are as important as anything.”

After Sept. 5, you’ll be able to report your summer sesh online, or just mail in your card to Crab Central in Oly; see your card for addresses.

Childers says that the more data WDFW has, the “greater accuracy in estimating the catch and developing future seasons.”

Those who don’t file will be dinged with a $10 fine when they buy their 2012 fishing license.

Also be aware that anyone crabbing in Puget Sound needs the $3 endorsement (free for crabbers under 15). You also need a state fishing license to crab in Washington.

To make sure you’re not among those with an empty card come Labor Day, we’ve asked salty dog Wayne Heinz to detail how it’s done. You can find his big four-page story on baits, traps, placement, how to talk like a pro crabber, etc., etc., etc., in the July issue of Northwest Sportsman.

Go, crab, catch many, cull, card – and chow down.

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