Anyone age 15 and over is required to have a fishing or shellfishing license to fish for crab in Washington state. In addition, all fishers – regardless of age – are required to have a crab endorsement and a catch record card (CRC) while fishing for crab in Puget Sound.
Recreational crabbers will be issued at one or two catch record cards (CRCs) when they purchase a Puget Sound crab endorsement with a fishing license. One CRC is valid for the summer fishing season, extending from the opening day through Labor Day. The other CRC is valid for the fall/winter fishing season, which extends from the day after Labor Day through December 31st. Crabbers should only request a CRC for the season(s) they intend to harvest.
Summer CRCs and Fall/Winter CRCs must be reported to WDFW by the date printed on each card. Failure to do so will result in a $10 administrative penalty on the next license purchase. Crabbers have the option of returning their completed CRC to WDFW by mail or filing their report on the website listed on the cards.
Catch record cards, which provide an ongoing account of each crabber’s catch, are the foundation of the state’s accounting system for recreational catch. Just as fishery managers rely on fish tickets to track the commercial harvest, they depend on catch record card data to estimate the recreational harvest.
Data from catch record cards submitted for the summer fishery are used in estimating in-season catch relative to area harvest quotas. After the season is over, data from catch cards for both the summer and fall/winter fishing periods will be used to determine the total harvest for the season.
Accuracy is important. Inaccurate catch estimates can result in over-harvesting or unnecessary limits on fishing opportunities. That’s why carefully maintained, up-to-date catch record cards are vitally important in maintaining future fishing opportunity.
Since the crab catch record card was initiated in 2000, WDFW has implemented multiple incentive programs to encourage crabbers to return their catch card information. These incentives have included reminder post cards, free fishing license drawings, and the option to report on the Internet. Even with these incentives in place the Department did not achieve a reporting rate greater than 33%. The purpose of the penalty system is to further encourage crabbers to return their cards or report on the Internet by the deadlines, so accurate catch numbers can be produced for the recreational crab fishery. Since the penalty has been implemented, summer season reporting rates have improved to about 53% in 2012.
Fishing seasons, daily catch limits and other recreational crabbing rules are described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet.
Harvest of Dungeness crab and other shellfish is shared equally between treaty Indian tribes and non-tribal fishers under a 1994 federal court ruling known as the “Rafeedie Decision.”
Non-tribal Puget Sound Dungeness crab fishing opportunities are divided between recreational and commercial fishers under a policy adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, the nine-member citizen panel that provides guidance to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Commission’s policy divides Puget Sound into six crab-management regions, three of which are off-limits to non-tribal commercial fishing. In the remaining three areas where both recreational and non-tribal commercial fisheries operate, recreational opportunity is based on specific summer and winter seasons. This strategy provides for a predictable summer season and for the possibility of winter seasons in areas where enough pounds remain on the State’s share.
Non-tribal crab fishing seasons for Puget Sound are set by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife within the allocation policy adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. Puget Sound recreational crab fishing seasons are identified in that policy for each of six crab-management regions of Puget Sound.
After Labor Day weekend, recreational crabbing closes in most marine areas for approximately one month while fishery managers count the summer sport catch. The areas where the State has additional pounds to harvest after the completed summer season are then opened for additional fall/winter seasons.
Dungeness crab, like other state fish resources, is managed to perpetuate the species while providing a sustainable harvest. State and tribal fishery managers use a so-called “3-S strategy” to determine the portion of the Dungeness crab population that can be harvested on a sustainable basis. The 3-S strategy considers:
- Size: Only crab that are 6¼ inches or larger can be harvested, allowing smaller male crab the opportunity to mate at least once before they are taken in the fishery.
- Sex: Only male crab can be harvested, to protect egg-bearing females for propagation.
- Season: The fishery is closed during the peak crab molt cycle, when Dungeness crab shells are soft and handling could kill the animals.
Crab fishing seasons are scheduled to avoid actively fishing on soft-shell crab, to adjust harvests to regional abundance, and to meet the requirements of the Rafeedie Decision mentioned earlier. Since these factors can vary from area to area, so do opening dates of the recreational fishery in these areas.
Currently Marine Areas 7-South and 7-North open later than the rest of Puget Sound primarily because in these areas many legal-size crab are still soft-shelled on July 1.
Recreational crab seasons have been shortened in most areas of Puget Sound because estimates of the recreational Dungeness crab catch indicate a dramatic increase. Catch estimates for Puget Sound as a whole show that recreational harvest more than doubled from 1996 to 2005. At least some of this increase is due to increased participation. In the 2011 license year over 237,000 Puget Sound crab endorsements were sold.
Because of this increase and to comply with the Rafeedie Decision, recreational crab seasons were shortened in 2005 to avoid exceeding target harvest levels established in the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Puget Sound crab policy. Today’s restructured fishery includes features which slow catch rates and extend the duration of the season. These features include a later opening date for some areas, a five-day-per-week fishing schedule during the summer season (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are closed), and a 5 Dungeness crab daily limit. This has allowed for summer and fall/winter fishing opportunities in most marine areas.
Starting in 2007, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife implemented a new crab catch estimation system that uses in-season catch information from catch record cards returned to the department or reported on the internet. Prior to 2007 catch estimates were based on telephone surveys of thousands of recreational crabbers who hold catch record cards and are endorsed to fish for crab. The new system has reduced the dependence on telephone surveys for collecting catch data and increased the use of catch information reported directly to the department.
Catch information from summer catch cards which are reported by mail or on the internet is entered into a database to generate a combined total. Crab fishers who fail to report their cards to the department prior to the deadline on the card may be contacted via phone surveys. Using several years of phone survey data, catch estimates are then generated for those people who failed to report their catch. These estimates of non-reported catch are added to the total harvest of crabbers who reported their catch to produce the overall catch estimates.
Yes. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff and any companies which may be contracted to conduct phone surveys have access to each catch record card-holder’s name, address, phone number, CRC document number and recreational licensing identification number. This information and any data reported during phone surveys are strictly confidential. Survey companies under contract do not have access to fishers’ driver’s license numbers or Social Security numbers and cannot share or sell catch record card holders’ contact information.
Non-tribal commercial crab fishing in Puget Sound is limited to Marine Areas 4 through 9, under the Puget Sound Crab Policy set by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. There is no non-tribal commercial crab fishery operating in Marine Areas 10 through 13. Any commercial crab fishing in Marine Areas 10 through 13 is tribal.
Both non-tribal and tribal commercial crab catches are reported on a legal document called a fish-receiving ticket. Licensed buyers are required to fill out fish tickets when commercially caught crab are weighed and sold. Copies of non-tribal and tribal commercial fish tickets are sent to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife within 72 hours of sale and recorded in the department’s catch-reporting database.
While most recreational crab fisheries open on July 1, the non-tribal commercial crab fishery in Puget Sound doesn’t begin until Oct. 1. Crab abundance is lower during the commercial fishery, which follows crabbing by recreational and tribal fisheries in summer. Because catch rates may be lower during the commercial fishery, it can take longer for commercial fishers to take their share of the harvest. Weather also often limits commercial fishing during fall and winter months, slowing the catch rate and thus extending the duration of the fishery.
Recreational crab seasons and tribal commercial crab seasons often do not coincide. The Tribes open their commercial fisheries based on results from soft-shell testing surveys. If the test results indicate most of the legal-size crabs have completed their annual molt process, the Tribes may conduct crab fisheries prior to the opening of the recreational fishery. This is not a recent development and the Tribes have been opening crab fisheries before the recreational fishery for a number of years now. The substantial benefit of this strategy is that it provides for a recreational only fishery (sole harvest group) for the majority of the summer period. Tribal crabbers may also harvest crab during or after the recreational season just as long as pounds remain to be harvested on the tribal share.
Yes. The non-tribal commercial fishery for Dungeness crab is a “limited entry” fishery, meaning that only a fixed number of commercial licenses are issued. In 1980, the Washington Legislature limited the fishery to 258 licenses – down from more than 400 issued during the previous decade. Of those 258 licenses, about 247 are still active. Each commercial license holder can use up to 100 pots on that license at a maximum, although in recent years the fleet has chosen to fish some areas with limits of 50 or 75 pots per license to extend their harvest season.