A few easy rules equals more crab to go around

A female and male Dungeness crab - Contributed photo
A female and male Dungeness crab
— image credit: Contributed photo

Everyone wants to go home with Dungeness crabs, and their crab pots, after the time and effort spent in crabbing. In recent years, record numbers of Dungeness crabs have been harvested, with more than 10 million pounds of crab being taken in 2011 alone. Each year, over 12,000 crab pots are lost. Those pots trap and kill 178,000 male, harvestable crabs annually. Each lost pot wastes $235 worth of crab, plus it takes at least $190 (of your tax dollars) to find and remove each lost pot. It is important that all recreational crabbers follow these basic rules to keep the population strong.

Keep only male crabs six and one-fourth inch and larger: Smaller males are responsible for most of the future generations, so taking them could reduce future harvests and impact the wildlife that depend on crab larvae for food. Sexes can be differentiated by looking at the abdomens on the crabs’ underside. The female crab’s abdomen is much broader as it is where the female holds her millions of eggs.

Measure your crab properly: Use a caliper, available at most gear or bait shops. The crab is measured on the inside of the last set of points, or tips. Taking a female or small male crab is illegal..

Use escape (rot) cord: A large percentage of recovered crab pots are not equipped with escape cord. Biodegradable cord (cotton, jute, sisal, yarn or hemp) “rots” in two to three months, preventing 30 legal size crabs a year from perishing in your pot. The dead and dying crab become bait for more crab, continuing the cycle until the pot degrades.


Weight your lines: Weighted lines sink rather than floating on the surface of the water. A passing boat will not see a floating line and can cut it as it passes over. You can either buy leaded line or purchase weights and attach those to your line. It doesn’t hurt to also weight your pot, especially if you are crabbing in areas with strong currents.


Check the water depth: Before you toss your pots over the side of the boat or dock, check the water depth with a chart or depth finder. Slowly lowering the pot until it hits the ground is a wiser choice than tossing it in and watching the buoy go underwater.


Use more line: Use a line that is one-third longer than the water depth in which you are crabbing. This will ensure that you won’t lose your pot due to deep water, high tides or strong currents that pull the pot sideways as you lower it to the ground.


Steer clear of high traffic areas: Avoid ferry, log boom or commercial boat routes as these ships do not detour for crab pots.


– Adapted from resources by WSU Snohomish County Extension, Pacific Marine Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership, NW Straits, US Fish & Wildlife Service, North American Journal of Fisheries Management and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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