By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
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Today is the opening day of crab season in Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line), 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) and 12 (Hood Canal).
Reached Wednesday at his office at Point Hudson in Port Townsend, Rich Childers, the state’s shellfish policy lead, confirmed those predictions.
“Absolutely, those predictions are valid,” Childers said.
“We expect a total of 9 million pounds of crab to be caught in Washington this year,’ Childers said.
Half of that total, 4.5 million pounds, is reserved for the recreational crab harvest. The other half is for tribal crabbers.
Childers had even better news for the recreational crab harvest in Marine Area 6 and Marine Area 9.
“In Marine Area 6, the tribes are not going into the Sequim Bay, Dungeness, and Discovery Bay areas, until after the recreational harvesters,” Childers said.
“In Marine Area 9, the tribes went for seven days in mid-June and took a portion of their quota and won’t be going back until at least mid-September, if not later.”
Last year, I recall some fears that the tribes had “hammered” Port Townsend Bay in advance of the recreational opener.
Those fears were soon dispelled when I was eating crab caught on the opener, crab caught mid-season and crab caught later in the fishery that was made into crab cakes during the fall.
“We have seen numbers in the range of eight to ten million crab per year in the last decade in Puget Sound,” Childers said.
“It’s held pretty steady and we believe it to be a viable, healthy fishery.”
Crab harvest is checked through the catch record cards crabbers receive when purchasing a crab endorsement.
They are given in increments, one for the summer fishing season from June through Labor Day and the other for the fall/winter season from Labor Day to Dec. 31.
The fall/winter cards will be available beginning Aug. 15.
Everyone fishing for crab, even those younger than 15 who don’t need a fishing license, needs to carry and maintain a catch record card.
Childers recommends recording the catch right after a pot is brought aboard.
“I would say most crabbers are going out with more than one person aboard, so designate someone to record the crab immediately,” Childers said.
“Now, immediately is not after you’ve washed the boat down or after you’ve cracked them and are eating them for dinner,” he joked.
“It’s on the water, aboard the boat.”
Summer catch record cards are due Oct. 1, and crabbers can mail them in or report them online at fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/wa/crabreport.
Childers said about 70 percent of crabbers report online, a good sign for the system which was implemented back in 2007.
“There’s $10 fee, what I like to call a voluntary tax, if you don’t report your catch,” Childers said.
The daily catch limit in our Marine Areas is five Dungeness crab, males only, in hard-shell condition with a minimum carapace width of 6 ¼ inches.
Crabbers may catch six red rock crab of either sex per day, provided those crab measure at least 5 inches across.
The season runs today through Sept. 3, with crabbing allowed from Thursday through Monday each week and closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
State law requires crabbers to remove their pots from the water on closed days.
“You have to have your gear out of water; if pots are in the water they are likely going to be confiscated,” Childers said.
Discarded crab pots, either lost or which have suffered a malfunction, abound in our area waters.
Recently, Fish and Wildlife and the nonprofit Northwest Straits Foundation, spent much of June ridding Port Townsend Bay of some 400 derelict pots.
The foundation estimates that 12,000 pots are lost in Puget Sound every year and those with thick escape cords or no escape cords at all, can catch and trap and ultimately kill up to 30 crabs.
That could mean 80,000 harvestable crabs are lost each year.
Those would taste better on your plate, particularly at a Fourth of July picnic.
Childers said there are no immediate plans for a crab pot cleanup project for Port Angeles harbor, Sequim Bay or Discovery Bay, but these areas are potential sites for future cleanup.
“We don’t have plans right now, but a cleanup of those area is not off the table for the future,” Childers said.
Funding for these removal operations came from the Puget Sound Crab endorsement fee paid by sport crabbers to Fish and Wildlife.
For more information, visit www.derelictgear.com.
Outdoors columnist Michael Carman appears here Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5152 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.