Crabbing could be delayed by a late molt

With the recreational crab fishing season set to begin Friday in waters near Whidbey Island, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is hoping the crabs will come through on their end of the bargain.

Last week, Ralph Downes, a fish and wildlife officer for the DFW, said the annual molting cycle of the Dungeness crab had not yet finished running its course. Recent tests of the crabs in the area have shown a large percentage of them still have soft shells in Marine Area 8-1 near the east side of Whidbey Island.

In order to open the fishery, Downes said that 80 percent of the Dungeness must have hard shells.

“If the crabs cooperate, we’ll certainly have it open by the June 4 opener,” he said.

Marine Area 9 — located on the west side of Whidbey Island — opened as scheduled on Tuesday. Marine Area 8-2 has also been cleared to open in its entirety on Friday. Keeping the fishery boundaries simple is part of the DFW’s plan to make the area rules easier to understand.

“We’re trying to avoid creating a lot of lines,” Downes said. “The more lines we create the more complicated it is.”

The Puget Sound Anglers met in May to discuss the upcoming crab and fishing season with Downes. Downes educated the group about the DFW’s plans to heavily patrol the area for violators, especially targeting those that have ignored the state’s regulations.

Downes strongly urged all licensed harvesters to focus on three requirements before and during harvesting. He said harvesters should first determine the area they are in is open for the season, and if certain days of the week have been specified for allowable fishing.

Harvesters should also make sure the species of crab caught can be retained. Dungeness crab and Red Rock crab both have a limit of six crabs. Only male Dungeness crab over 6.25 inches can be kept, and Red Rock crab can be either sex, but must be at least 5 inches.

Most importantly, Downes urged harvesters to immediately record their catches.

“You need to record them on your catch record card right away,” he said.

In other DFW news, clamming at Freeland Park has been closed for the year. Originally scheduled to close June 31, Downes said it was closed due to the high amount of harvesting that took place on the beach. The season will reopen in January 2005.

More tests and results on the crab development for Marine Area 8-1 were expected to be released Tuesday by the DFW, but was not available yet at press time.

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