Last year, many islanders who have crabbed off Vashon’s shores for years were dismayed by the lack of Dungeness crabs nearby and were concerned about the health of the Dungeness crab fishery. Last week, The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that two marine areas in south Puget Sound will not open for crab fishing this summer to allow Dungeness crab populations to rebuild.
The recreational crab fisheries that will remain closed are in Marine Area 11, which includes Tacoma and Vashon, and Marine Area 13, in south Puget Sound. Tribal commercial crab fisheries will also remain closed in those areas this year. State and tribal co-managers are developing crabbing seasons for the rest of Puget Sound and plan to announce those later this month, according to a recent WDFW press release.
“We are still working on setting crab seasons but wanted to give people early notice about these closures, which is a change from previous years,” said Bob Sizemore, Puget Sound shellfish manager for WDFW.
Sizemore said the department will continue working to structure fisheries in each Puget Sound region, but he does not anticipate closures similar to those in marine areas 11 and 13.
The populations of harvestable Dungeness crabs are low in both areas 11 and 13, based on pre-season test fisheries, Sizemore said. Additionally, Dungeness crab harvests have fallen 88 percent in Marine Area 11 and 90 percent in Marine Area 13 since the 2014-15 season. Input from recreational crabbers also indicates support for the closures.
“We are taking this step to protect crab in these areas and allow the populations to rebuild,” Sizemore said.
Water currents can carry young crab long distances, making it possible for crab larvae from robust populations to settle and grow in areas 11 and 13, Sizemore said. But it can take several years for a newly settled Dungeness crab to grow and reach the minimum harvestable size of 6 ¼ inches.
A variety of factors could be contributing to the declining population of crab in areas 11 and 13, Sizemore said, including reduced survival of crab larvae, a higher-than-normal mortality rate for juvenile crab or changing ocean conditions such as elevated surface water temperatures.
The department will post Puget Sound recreational seasons on its crab-fishing website at fishing website at /wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab.