By Debbie Preston, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Despite spotty soft shell crab conditions early in the season, coastal tribal crab fishermen are cautiously optimistic after landing 1.7 million pounds of crab prior to the Dec. 2 storm.
“The further north up the coast fishermen went, the more sorting for soft shells that had to be done,” said Joe Schumacker, fisheries operations section manager for the Quinault Indian Nation.
Dungeness crabs shed their old shell – or molt – and grow a new one about 12 times by the age of 2 years, and then approximately once a year through age 6.
While the new shell is hardening, there is much less meat on the crab and what is there is mushy.
Soft shell crab must be returned to the water.
“We still had around 1 million pounds landed in November,” Schumacker said.
“December didn’t start out too well, however,” he added.
Many fishermen lost crab gear in the Dec. 2-3 storm.
“Some are applying for small business loans to get more gear,” Schumacker said.
Quileute tribal fishermen had to wait longer to fish as a large portion of the crab was still soft.
“But once they could get out and crab conditions had improved, the guys did well,” said Kris Northcut, harvest management biologist for the Quileute Tribe.
“Now it’s just a matter of how many fishable days they get.”
Inconsistent crab abundance in the Neah Bay area makes the crab fishing less significant for the Makah tribe, and the Hoh tribe plans to participate in the future.