It is never too early to start planning summer vacations around Dungeness crab seasons, and a new rule is in effect where anglers are now required to report their catches or else face a monetary penalty.
The Puget Sound crab season begins June 18 in some areas while other places will see a much later starting date.
The western Strait of Juan de Fuca from Neah Bay and Sekiu and southern Puget Sound are the first areas to open June 18. Crabbing will be allowed daily through Jan. 2, 2010.
Inner-Puget Sound places such as northern Puget Sound, Central Puget Sound, Saratoga Passage and the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca will open at 7 a.m. on July 1.
All these areas will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays only, plus the entire Labor Day weekend, and closing the evening of Sept. 7. Catches will be reviewed and if enough remains the season could reopen sometime in fall or winter.
In Hood Canal, the crab fishery will open July 29 to help prevent the harvesting of mating female crabs.
“Crab abundance in Hood Canal has dropped considerably since 2001 and we need as many crabs as possible for reproduction,” said Rich Childers, a state Fish and Wildlife crab resource manager. “Although it is already unlawful to harvest female crabs, co-managers are taking extra precautions to help stabilize and protect the crab population.”
Hood Canal opens July 29, and crabbing will be allowed Wednesdays through Saturdays only, plus the entire Labor Day weekend. The fishery will remain open through Jan. 2, 2010.
Portions of the San Juan Islands referred to as Marine Area 7 East (Bellingham and Samish bays) and Area 7 South (San Juan Islands) opens July 15, and crabbing is allowed Wednesdays through Saturdays only, plus the entire Labor Day weekend, closing the evening of Sept. 30.
The northern part of the San Juan Islands referred to as Marine Area 7 North (Lummi Island/Blaine) opens Aug. 12, and crabbing is allowed Wednesdays through Saturdays only, plus the entire Labor Day weekend, closing the evening of Sept. 30.
Crabbers who fail to file catch reports for 2009 will face a $10 fine, which will be imposed when they apply for their 2010 fishing license.
The fine was approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to increase catch card return rates and gain more accuracy on recreational catch estimates.
“Last year, less than a third of 218,000 licensed crabbers reported their catch as required, so hopefully avoiding a fine will act as an incentive,”Childers said.
Sport crabbers in Puget Sound are required to record their Dungeness crab catch on two separate catch record cards — one for the summer season and one for the fall/winter season. Catch record cards are not required to fish for Dungeness crab in the Columbia River and on the Washington coast (marine areas 1-4).
Childers also reminded anglers that anyone fishing for crab in Puget Sound must purchase a $3 crab endorsement, which is free to fishermen under age 15. All fishermen age 15 or older also must carry an applicable fishing license to fish for crab anywhere in Washington.
The daily catch limit in Puget Sound is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 1/4 inches. Fishers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across.
(Photos by Thomas James Hurst and Pedro Perez, Seattle Times staff photographers)