Signs indicate numbers up to 3 million pounds of crab could exceed last year’s record harvest.
Dungeness crab devotees could be in store for another banner summer season when the fishery officially kicks off July 2 in most marine areas of Puget Sound.
“Based on the crab abundance we’re looking at a projected harvest of 2.5 to 3 million pounds in Puget Sound,” said Rich Childers, the state Fish and Wildlife crab resource manager.
That would be higher than last year’s record harvest of 2.4 million pounds.
One early sign of what lies ahead was the early opening of Hood Canal this past Monday, more than two weeks sooner than expected.
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“We saw really good numbers of crabs in the northern section of Hood Canal during our test fisheries earlier this month,” Childers said. “But we’re still not seeing a robust abundance in the southern area (south of Scenic Beach State Park near Seabeck and Duckabush).”
Another positive signal was test crab fisheries conducted by state and tribal fishery managers that found a population growth in some marine areas just outside of the Seattle skyline.
“There is a good abundance of crab in (central and south-central Puget Sound), and I think they are going to produce good fishing this summer,” Childers said. “Northern Puget Sound is also expected to have a fairly decent amount of crab as well.”
Even more promising news came from the eastern side of Whidbey Island, where Dungeness crabs have shown a resurgence.
“The test fisheries (from East Point south to Possession Point area) revealed what appears to be an average year, but it’s the best I’ve ever seen it (from Deception Pass south to East Point),” said Don Velasquez, a state Fish and Wildlife crab biologist. “We haven’t done any test fishing in the (San Juan Islands), but I expect it to be an average year.”
Southern Puget Sound opened June 1, and while there are small pockets of good crab abundance, it appears the overall scope isn’t very rosy.
“We don’t normally conduct test fisheries in South Sound, but we wanted to get an index on crab abundance since their numbers seemed to have dropped off dramatically in recent seasons,” Velasquez said. “We used 90 commercial crab pots that were set overnight, and each pot averaged only one legal-size Dungeness crab. On the other hand we had six red rock crab per every pot set.”
Many are wondering if the toxic algae bloom that has plagued crab fisheries on the southern coast will affect summer-time activities in Puget Sound.
“There are toxic blooms in Puget Sound, but they’re not the same issue we’re dealing with on the coast and two totally different worlds,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager. “Puget Sound does have its own marine toxin issues with clam and oyster beach closures, but nothing that has affected the crab.”
Crabbers and shellfish gatherers can find a comprehensive marine waterway map that details what areas are open and closed at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/
Here are the dates of the summer crab-fishing season:
Strait of Juan de Fuca at Neah Bay east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line; Sekiu; Port Angeles area; Deception Pass to East Point; East Point to Possession Point; northern, central and south-central Puget Sound open July 2 through Sept. 7. Crabbing is allowed Thursdays through Mondays only.
The San Juan Islands South (San Juan Islands/Bellingham) opens July 16 through Sept. 28. Crabbing is allowed Thursdays through Mondays only.
San Juan Islands North (Gulf of Georgia) opens Aug. 13 through Sept. 28. Crabbing is allowed Thursdays through Mondays only.
Hood Canal is open now through Sept. 7. Crabbing is allowed Thursdays through Mondays only.
Southern Puget Sound is open daily now through Sept. 7.
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, and each must measure at least 5 inches across.
Gear may not be set or pulled out of the water from one hour after official sunset to one hour before official sunrise. All shellfish gear must be removed from the water on closed days.
Dungeness crab must be recorded on catch-record cards right after they are retained.
“We’re seeing good compliance on crabbers having licenses, but our biggest issue is people failing to submit their catch on cards immediately after they bring them aboard,” Childers said. “We’re adopting a zero tolerance on that. Another one is making sure your crabs aren’t undersized.”