Dungeness Crab Among July Fishing Choices Flourishing Across Washington

Fishing seasons are heating up, leaving anglers with some difficult decisions about how to spend their time wisely this summer. But for thousands of anglers, nothing beats the excitement of the recreational Puget Sound Dungeness crab season, which begins July 1 in many marine areas, and is a highly anticipated summer fishing activity.

“Crabbing seasons will be typical around most of Puget Sound,” said Don Velasquez, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) shellfish biologist. “Still, some areas with continued low abundance will have limited seasons or remain closed this year to promote Dungeness population recovery.”

The Dungeness crab season begins July 1 through Sept. 5 (fishing allowed Thursdays to Mondays only) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca east of Bonilla-Tatoosh Island line off Neah Bay (Marine Area 4), Sekiu (Marine Area 5) and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca around Port Angeles (Marine Area 6); the east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2); and northern Puget Sound (Marine Area 9).

Central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10) will be open July 3 through Sept. 5 and south-central Puget Sound (Marine Area 11) from July 3 through Aug. 30. Fishing is allowed in Marine Areas 10 and 11 on Sundays and Mondays only.

Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) north of a line projected true east from Ayock Point is open July 1 through Sept. 5 (fishing allowed Thursdays through Mondays only).

A section of San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7 South) — San Juan Islands/Bellingham — is open July 14 through Sept. 30 (fishing allowed Thursdays through Mondays). Another San Juan Island section known as Marine Area 7 North (Gulf of Georgia) is open Aug. 18 through Sept. 30 (fishing allowed Thursdays through Mondays). Those planning to crab after Labor Day must obtain a winter catch card.

Southern Puget Sound (Marine Area 13) and Hood Canal south of Ayock Point (Marine Area 12) will remain closed this summer to help Dungeness crab populations rebuild.

The summer — July through September — sport crab fishery has the highest participation with 225,282 summer catch cards issued to anglers in 2021 compared to 26,843 catch cards issued during the winter fishery.

Know the rules for crabbing

WDFW regulations require crabbers to fill out their catch card immediately after landing crabs and before re-deploying traps. Catch record card information is crucial to managing Dungeness crab in Puget Sound. Summer catch record cards, regardless of whether you caught any crab or not, must be submitted to WDFW by Oct. 1, 2022. Learn more on this webpage.

“It is important that crabbers return their catch record cards at the end of the season in order to help us better understand and manage this fishery,” said Velasquez. “Only about 50 percent of crabbers record their catch at the end of the season. This information is critical for setting future seasons to determine levels of sustainable catch and set harvest seasons.”

Dungeness crab must measure at least 6 1/4 inches at the widest point of the shell just in front of the rearmost point or tips. The most accurate way to measure a crab is a plastic caliper crab gauge (not a dollar bill) available at most sporting goods stores. The daily limit in Puget Sound is five male Dungeness crab in hard-shell condition. You may also keep six red rock crab of either sex daily. Red rock crab must measure at least 5 inches.

Biodegradable rot cord (plastic zip cords are illegal to use) is mandatory to secure the lid and escape hatches on pots. The rot cord must be untreated 100 percent cotton or other natural fiber no larger than thread size 120. This cord must be able to rot away and allow crab to escape freely. A derelict crab pot without a proper escape cord can attract and kill crabs for years after it has been lost. Be sure to have your crab pot weighted down enough so that it doesn’t drift away in the current or during tidal exchanges.

Improperly marked crab pots is another violation, and each buoy on the crab pot must have the person’s name and address. Other violations include possession of female Dungeness crabs, keeping soft-shelled crabs, over limits, boating safety violations, and no fishing license or Puget Sound Crab Endorsement.

Catch record cards are not required to fish for Dungeness crab in the Columbia River or on the Washington coast, where crabbing is open year-round.

How to catch crab

Crab pots are the popular way to catch crabs from a boat or from a pier and are typically set 10 to 60 feet but as deep as 100 feet or more and left to soak for several hours. On the other hand, ring nets should be monitored regularly as bait can be picked off by crabs that freely come and go as opposed to pots. Be sure to add weight to your pot or ring if deploying in deeper water or in areas with heavy current.

Popular bait are salmon or fish carcasses and heads, squid, clams, chicken and/or turkey parts. Also make sure to add a liquid attractant that can be applied to the bait to create a scent line to attract crabs.

Wading along the shoreline using a dip-net is a fun way to catch crab in bays with sandy bottoms and large beds of eelgrass that crab use as habitat. When wading head out a few hours before low tide. Bring a bucket or a large mesh bag to carry your catch.

There’s a wealth of information on the WDFW website with additional details and regulations.

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