July 1st marks an exciting time for all people that enjoy the outdoors here in the State of Washington. Not only is it the start of what might be a long 4th of July weekend for some but it is also the opener for recreational crabbing in Marine areas 6, 8-1, 8-2, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Without a doubt, Dungeness crab is the tastiest crab of all and if this year is anything like last year, we will have an abundance for harvest. Crabbing is one outdoor happening that is enjoyed by everyone, from casual sailboaters to hardcore fisherman, crabbing for dungees is one thing we all love.
For most fisherman, the rules for crabbing are understood and we as recreational anglers do our best to abide by them. However, there are some that either don't know or don't care and abuse what is a good thing for all of us. After reading a press release from WDFW today regarding stepped up enforcement for recreational crabbing, I was reminded of a story. I was staying up on Orcas Island a few years back having some fun of my own fishing and crabbing when a boat that obviously wasn't a rec angler pulled in with their days haul of crab. After looking at a huge cooler stuffed full of over the limit, undersized, male and female crab, it was all that I could do to contain myself. If I had to do it all over again, I would have said something to educate them on what they were doing and then if they didn't comply with the law, I would have reported them. With that being said and with the knowledge that there will be stepped-up enforcement, let's take some time now to make sure a great day out on the water stays that way.
First off, the daily catch limit for Dungeness crab in Puget Sound is five males in hard shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 1/4 inches. To determine whether a crab is a male or female, simply turn the crab over and look at the abdomen. A wide abdomen is a female and a narrow one is a male. The difference is easy to see and remember, all females must be returned safely to the water. Harvesting crab in soft-shell condition is also illegal. You can easily determine whether or not a crab is in soft-shell condition by pinching the center of the large section of the first walking leg. Also, if a crab seems light for it's size, it's likely soft-shell.
Make sure you measure your crab before keeping.
There are many different methods of harvesting crab. Crab pots, ring nets, dip nets, and even using a crab rake while wading in shallow water can all be very effective. For most however, crab pots seem to be the way to go. Even with the use of crab pots, there are a few things that we should remember to stay on the good side of the law. First off, each crab pot should be weighted and must be marked with a red and white buoy. All buoys must be legibly and permanently marked with the user's first and last name and address. Buoy lines must also be weighted and I recommend spending a little extra on leaded line. Buoys should be visible on the surface at all times and may not be tended from a vessel at night. As far as the crab pot itself, it must have two escape rings of at least 4 1/4 inches in inside diameter and the pot lid must be secured by untreated cotton cord or other natural fiber no larger than thread size 120 or 1/8 inch. This will enable crabs to escape derelict pots.
Typical crab pot with red and white buoy.
Most people crab in water that is 20-50 feet deep. I have been finding success in recent years however in water up to 150 feet. Often times it is just a matter of where you are crabbing. For bait, I have found turkey legs to be way more effective that chicken for some reason. If you are going to use chicken or turkey I do recommend soaking them in some sort of crab scent. Using a leftover carcass from a salmon can also be effective but my absolute favorite is albacore tuna. We have soaked albacore carcasses next to all other baits and the oil and smell of the tuna outdoes them every time. Soak time can vary but I recommend checking your pots regularly.
Preparing crab is also very easy. Season some boiling water and you are in business. If you are cooking a whole crab it can take up to 20 minutes to cook but if you clean your crab by splitting down the abdomen and pulling apart from the middle, it only takes about 12 minutes and comes out much cleaner.
Keep your crab fresh until cooking.
Lastly, don't forget to record your catch on your catch record card as soon as the crab are harvested. For more information, watch this video provided by WDFW.