State airs crab fishing changes in forums

"Non-tribal recreational crabbers are invited to two forums to collect public input regarding proposed changes necessitated by court-mandated shellfish allocation requirements.The first forum will be Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at the PUD offices on Freeway Drive in Mount Vernon. The second forum will be held at the Department of Fish & Wildlife office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2.According to a Wildlife Dept. news release, it is proposed that all types of crab fishing -- not just pot fishing -- be closed during molting season this year. Ring gear and star traps, as well as wade and dive fishing, will no longer be allowed during molting times. In addition, a quota system may be imposed which could shorten the season. Such a system was first applied last year in Hood Canal.Jeff Koenings, Wildlife director, said the primary reason for these changes in management is the rapid growth in crab landings over the past five years, which were twice as high as average landings during the previous 15 years.Koenings described Dungeness crab stocks as generally healthy, and we want to keep them that way. Last year sport, tribal and commercial crabbers caught an estimated 7.7 million pounds of crab in Puget Sound.According to Lisa Venerosa, Wildlife's policy lead on the shellfish issue, sport crabbers last year exceeded their share of the catch, even though the season was closed in many areas after just three-and-a-half months.People were frustrated with the early closure last year, and I don't blame them, Venerosa said. We need to find new ways to conduct these fisheries that work better for both people and the future of that resource. "

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