Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Crabbing Season is here!

Summer is here, and that means crab season! Crab season in our local waters around the Port Townsend Marine Science Center will open this year on June 30. Other opening days in the Salish Sea region can be found here on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Opening of crab season at the PTMSC means a lot of hustle and bustle. The sea becomes a minefield of bobbing red and white crab pot buoys, people hauling out crab pots from over the pier, and people checking their crabs to make sure they are the right sex and size (more info here). The picnic tables are full of children and parents getting their haul ready to take home. The waters are speckled with boaters doing the same things.

Every year it is estimated that sport fishermen will catch over a million pounds of Dungeness crab!

When returning crabs that don't meet WDFW catch standards, remember to use the 
PTMSC crab elevator to safely lower your crabs back to the Salish Sea. 

So, how do these lucky people catch all those crabs? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when crabbing.

First things first. Get your license from the WDFW. Anyone over the age of 15 is required to carry a current fishing license with a crab endorsement on it. 

Once you have your license, or are in the process of getting it, it's time to choose your catch method. The most common way to catch crab in the Salish Sea is by using a crab pot. Crab pots can be purchased or created according to WDFW standards found on their website.

When creating and setting your crab pot, make sure to follow these tips to make sure that your pot and catch are not lost. 
  • Avoid marine transit and ferry lanes.
  • Check tides and currents: Avoid crabbing during strong tidal changes and currents.
  • Use high visibility buoys to clearly mark your gear.
  • Use a weighted line to sink below the surface and avoid being cut by passing boats.
  • Weight your pot so they do not move in high currents or tidal changes.
  • Use longer line. Use 1/3 more line than water depth to allow for changes in tides and currents.
  • Secure lid and escape panels with biodegradable cotton escape cord. This allows crabs to escape from lost pots after the cord degrades.

Here are a few helpful videos:

How to weight your pots

How to rig your line

When to set your pot

How to set your pot

How to modify your crab pot

You are now ready to catch some crab! These helpful hints will help you keep your catch and prevent your pot from becoming one of the 12,000 crab pots that are lost every year. Once lost at sea, crab pots become derelict or abandoned fishing gear. 

Derelict gear is considered to be a long-lasting marine debris and can include abandoned or lost nets, lines and pots. Most synthetic fishing gear can take decades (or more) to degrade and will continue to "ghost fish" or catch animals until removed from the ocean, as well as damage important habitat for animals. This gear is also a fiscal loss to the owner and becomes a hazard for divers, plus it can entangle boat motors and cause significant damage.

AmeriCorps member James with recovered derelict crab pots 
from under the PTMSC pier. Photo by Wendy Feltham

Thanks to the Northwest Straights Commission and WDFW, thousands of derelict fishing gear has been removed from the Salish Sea. With the help of fishermen all around the Puget Sound, WDFW has been able track and remove lost gear. If you are unable to recover your crab pot during crab season remember to contact WDFW or the Northwest Straits Commission.

There are no penalties when reporting lost or abandoned gear! Report your lost crab pot or fishing gear here.

Written by AmeriCorps Natural History and Volunteer Educator Emilee Carpenter.

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