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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Eye is on sport crabbers and new larger share of harvest

Meredith Heick of Spokane is looking forward to dinner with this keeper Dungeness crab from Hood Canal. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Meredith Heick of Spokane is looking forward to dinner with this keeper Dungeness crab from Hood Canal. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

SHELLFISHING -- After a five-year struggle lost by commercial harvesters, recreational crab fishers in Puget Sound have been offered a much-desired fixed season from July 1 until Labor Day, with no quotas for total take.

Commercial crab harvesters must now take a back seat to the recreational crabbers, harvesting from the remainder of the nontribal quota in the fall, according to a story by Christopher Dunagan of the Kitsap Sun.

The new season, approved in October by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, could increase the recreational harvest of Dungeness crabs by 40 percent, according to state estimates. Commercial harvesters could see their share drop from 67 percent to about half the nontribal quota.

Read on for the rest of the story from the Associated Press.

That’s a major victory for people who love to go crabbing, said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association. But the change comes with increased responsibility for sport crabbers, he added.

“We are on probation,” Floor said of recreational crabbers. “There has never been a more important year than this one. We need to clean up our act and get better at reporting our catch.”

Floor said commercial harvesters have been fairly successful with their argument that sport crabbers don’t deserve an increased number of crabs. Too many people illegally take undersized crabs or females, and too many fail to report their catch, the argument goes.

If sport crabbers wish to maintain their fixed season, including both days of each weekend, they must increase their compliance with the law, according to Floor and Rich Childers, Puget Sound shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The key, according to Childers, is for people to make sure they know how to identify a Dungeness crab, how to tell males from females and how to measure crabs -- before they go out in their boat. They must carry a catch record card on the boat and record the catch immediately, before putting their crab pot back in the water. These rules are designed to protect the reproductive crabs needed to produce future generations, he said.

“Failure to record” is the No. 1 violation among crabbers on the water, according to reports from enforcement officers.

“Know before you go” is the slogan for an educational campaign being launched by WDFW. A new brochure on the topic is available on the WDFW website, A hard copy was mailed to 80,000 people who applied early for crab licenses. The brochure and other materials -- including calipers and rot cord -- will be distributed by volunteers at selected boat launches until the supply of 10,000 is gone.

“If you know nothing about crabbing and you spend just five minutes with the brochure, you will know what you need to know,” Childers said.

At the end of the season, it is essential to turn in the official report of the catch, even if no crabs were taken, Childers said. It is the only way for managers to estimate the total catch and plan for the following season.

A few years ago, only a dismal 20 percent of the cards were returned, he said. After the department mailed out reminder cards and imposed a $10 penalty, the number increased to about 50 percent. But that’s still not good enough for accurate harvest estimates, he noted.

“We are never going to get 100 percent, but we would like to see returns in the upper 70s or 80 percent,” he said.

In the past, telephone surveys of people who failed to turn in their cards helped fill in the gaps, he said, but those surveys were discontinued in favor of the educational program.

According to early indicators, this summer will be a very good year for crabbing, Childers said. The number of recreational licenses issued this year may even exceed the 236,000 issued in 2010 -- also a good year. The number of recreational crabbers has grown significantly in recent years, from about 160,000 five years ago.

The recreational fishery will be open Thursday through Monday each week from July 1 through Labor Day, with a five-crab daily limit.

The nontribal commercial fishery will begin Oct. 1. In areas where adequate numbers of crab remain, a fall recreational opening would allow for additional catch, possibly until the end of the year.

Tribes are allocated half the total harvest, as required by court orders interpreting treaties from the 1850s. Each tribe sets the specific regulations for its members.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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