Summer Dungeness crab fisheries in most areas of Puget Sound set to open on the Fourth of July 1
Anglers can now mark dates on the summer calendar for setting their Dungeness crab pots in many areas of Puget Sound.
The Dungeness crab seasons in Marine Catch Areas east of Bonilla-Tatoosh Island boundary line (Area 4), Sekiu (5), Port Angeles (6), east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) and northern Puget Sound (9) opens July 4 through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).
Central Puget Sound (10) will see a reduction in the number of days open this summer due to an overage in last year’s catch quota. Crabbing will be open July 4 through Aug. 3 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week).
Hood Canal (12) north of a line projected due east of Ayock Point will be open July 4 through Sept. 2 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). Areas south of Ayock Point will not be open this summer to help crab populations rebuild.
In the San Juan Islands (7 South) will be open July 11 through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). San Juan Islands (7 North) will be open Aug. 15 through Sept. 30 (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week). South-central Puget Sound (11) and southern Puget Sound (13) will be closed this summer to help crab populations rebuild.
Those who hit the waterways of Puget Sound shouldn’t expect stellar Dungeness crab prospects this summer.
“Dungeness crab populations in the southern reaches of Puget Sound and southern Hood Canal have experienced stress in recent years,” said Bob Sizemore, the WDFW shellfish policy manager. “Crabbing in the northern portions of Puget Sound has been very good and should be good again this year.”
In all fisheries – sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial – during 2018 there was 9,225,000 pounds landed, which is down from 9,285,512 in 2017; 10,645,000 in 2016. The downward spiral comes on the heel of a record catch in 2015 when 11.8 million pounds of Dungeness crab was landed.
“Last year wasn’t a very good season for Dungeness crab in Puget Sound and catches were the weakest we’ve seen in the past decade,” said Don Velasquez, the head WDFW Puget Sound shellfish manager.
A breakdown of the sport catch in 2018 was 117,939 pounds in eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 6); 537,194 in San Juan Islands (Area 7); 720,417 on east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2); 95,678 in northern Puget Sound (Area 9); 46,788 in central Puget Sound (Area 10); closed in south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) although 237 pounds was reportedly caught; 87,377 in Hood Canal (12); and 134 in southern Puget Sound (Area 13).
There are certain factors shellfish managers are attributing the decline in southern Puget Sound crab populations with two- and three-year-old male Dungeness crab populations – averaging 4.4 inches – missing or not detected, and four-year-old crabs – averaging 5.4 inches – greatly reduced. Legal-size Dungeness crab are usually five-year-old and older averaging 6 ¼ inches or more.
Extreme surface water high temperature events in 2014 and 2015 could have played a role in the recent downtrend of Dungeness crab. Other factors are a distant source of brood stock for larval production and inconsistent larval advection; low dissolved oxygen levels; ocean acidification; restricted water flow south of the Tacoma Narrows; and excessive harvest.
To make matters worse extremely low density of Dungeness crab could affect successful mating.
The summer — July through September — sport fishery continues to have the highest participation level with 88.7 percent of the yearly sport catch, according to state Fish and Wildlife catch data.
General rules are crab pots may not set or pulled from a vessel from one hour after official sunset to one hour before official sunrise. All shellfish gear must be removed from the water on closed days.
Crabbers in Puget Sound must immediately write down their catch on record cards immediately after retaining Dungeness crab. Separate catch record cards are issued for the summer and winter seasons.
The daily limit in Puget Sound is five male Dungeness crab in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6¼ inches. Fishermen may also keep six red rock crab of either sex daily. Red rock crab must measure at least 5 inches. For more details, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations/crab.