One of the most liberal sport Dungeness crabbing season begins July 1, and it will also be one of the most closely watched as far as compliance goes.
“The gain is a summer season that allows fishing five-days-a-week, including weekends (in past years it was open four-days-a-week, and closed on Sundays),” said Rich Childers, the state Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound shellfish manager.
Last year, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a management change that allows sport crabbers to keep 45 percent of the nontribal share. In the past, only one-third of the nontribal catch went to sport anglers, with the rest going to the commercial sector.
Each year the state conducts test fisheries to determine how strong the crab population is, then determines seasons and what each group is allowed to catch.
Those in the sport fishing industry convinced the commission to provide more opportunity, and the ball started to roll when a proposal was drawn up in May 2005 and approved last October.
The non-tribal commercial crabbers also tried to get a temporary restraining order filed on the upcoming fishery in Thurston County court, but a judge denied the request in early May.
With the gain the commission also informed some 250,000 crabbers that they must clean up their act.
“In all of my 45 years of crabbing this season is the most important ever,” Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association said.
“We’re on probation, and there will be a review by the commission on how crabbers do in 2011 as far as education,” Floor said. “They can take it away as quickly as they expanded it.”
There are more than a handful of regulations that need to be addressed by the recreational crabbers.
To support education efforts, there was an increase to fees on recreational license endorsements for Puget Sound crabbing.
The annual crab endorsement fee went from $3 to $7.50. For a temporary license it would increase from $1 to $3.
Money from that endorsement – about $75,000 – goes to a variety of educational purposes including a three-fold brochure that was mailed out this week to about 80,000 households who purchased crab licenses.
“Each household will get the brochure, and a half-page sized waterproof card to keep on the boat,” Childers said. “This should help people know how to properly measure crabs with a caliper, proper rot cords to use on traps, and a flyer on how to put it on the traps.”
Childers says they’ll also have about 10,000 of these packets assembled, and will distribute them to anglers on the water, at boat ramps and other places this season.
Since last year, crabbers are required to report their crab catch by mailing them in or online soon after the summer and winter seasons or else face a penalty.
“We’ve seen an improvement on people reporting their catch from 20 percent to about 50 percent, and we’d like to see that go up to 75 percent,” Childers said.
Other rules that crabbers tend to violate are not having licenses on hand when fishing; not reporting their catch right after retaining crabs on the water; and keeping female crabs that is illegal.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh boundary line into Puget Sound is open July 1-Sept. 5, Thursdays to Mondays only. The San Juan Island southern portion opens July 15-Sept. 30, and the northern area opens Aug. 15-Sept. 30. Daily limit is five male Dungeness crabs with a minimum size of 6 1/4 inches.
Test fisheries conducted by state Fish and Wildlife this spring show the Dungeness crab population is healthy.
“Our test fisheries showed crab abundance seems to be up, so we expect a very good fishing season,” Childers said. “Hood Canal also showed record catches in our test fisheries, which hasn’t been seen in a long time.”
For information go to the state Fish and Wildlife Dungeness crabbing rules brochure.
Here is a link to the Puget Sound Dungeness Crabbing Guide on the state Fish and Wildlife website.
Readers can also visit the state Fish and Wildlife crab page on their website.
(Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times Photo Department)