Check your gear: here’s what’s legal during crab pot closure in coastal marine areas
The season for using crab pots in coastal marine areas has been closed for several weeks now, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is reminding crabbers about lawful gear during the fall season.
Recreational crabbing is open year-round on the Washington Coast, but pot gear season closes from Sept. 16 to Nov. 14 in Willapa Bay (Marine Area 2–1) and from Sept. 16 to Nov. 30 in the following areas:
- Marine Area 1 in the South Coast/Pacific Ocean portion of the area
Note the Columbia River portion of Marine Area 1 is managed under different regulations including crab pots open year-round.
- Marine Area 2 (Westport/Ocean Shores) including Grays Harbor (2–2)
- Marine Area 3 (La Push)
- Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) — West of Tatoosh-Bonilla line
Marine Area 4-East (East of Tatoosh-Bonilla line) is managed under different regulations.
Crab snares and foldable traps are legal during this time, as are ring nets that lie completely flat on the bottom.
Recently, some confusion has arisen as certain types of gear have been incorrectly marketed as ring nets that crabbers can legally use during these closures.
“Hoop nets — also known as dome pots or conical nets — are an example of gear that is prohibited outside of pot gear season,” said Charlotte Berry-Powell, WDFW’s lead recreational crab biologist for the Coastal Region. “Hoop nets do not qualify as ring nets because they don’t lie flat on the bottom or allow the free movement of crab when fished.”
Some crabbers have been leaving this gear out for several hours, even overnight. This affects crabs that are molting — shedding their shells and expanding to fill larger ones.
“The purpose of the pot closure is to prevent soft-shell (crab) mortality during this season,” she said. “If a crab is soft and it’s in a pot, it’s vulnerable to harm by other crabs. When pot gear season is open, a pot needs to have one or more entrance tunnels for the crab to enter, and it must be equipped with escape rings and rot cord. This way, if the pot were to get lost, the cord rots away, creating an opening so any crab can get out freely.”
Crabbers are required to mark all crab pots and unattended gear used on docks with a half-red, half-white buoy with the owner’s first and last name and permanent address (phone number is voluntary). It is illegal to set or pull unattended shellfish gear with a buoy that does not have your name on it, and only one name and address may appear on each buoy.
Other coastal crab rules
In the coastal marine areas listed above, there is a six-crab daily limit for Dungeness crabs, and a 6-inch minimum shell size. Crabbers must release all soft-shell crabs and all females to support population growth.
The six-crab daily limit also applies to red rock crabs, though the minimum shell size is 5 inches and crabbers may keep either sex.
Size minimums allow crabs to reach reproductive age.
“The main thing we’re struggling with right now is people measuring crab incorrectly,” Berry-Powell said. “They think that you measure from tip to tip. There’s the last set of spines on the crab shell, and you measure just in front of that.”
Minimum size is measured directly in front of the rear-most points or tips. You must use a crab caliper or gauge to accurately measure; do not use a tape measure, ruler, or dollar bill.
For more information on seasons, area regulations and gear rules, visit WDFW’s shellfish regulations page at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfishing-regulations.
Check out our August 2023 blog post on WDFW’s recently established Coastal Recreational Crab Unit.
Definitions — Ring net.
“Ring net” shall be defined to include all fishing gear having a rigid frame measuring no more than ten feet in diameter that is used to take shellfish in a live condition. The sides and all other parts of the gear must lie flat on the bottom in such a manner that the gear does not entrap or restrict the free movement of shellfish until lifted.