California’s highly anticipated annual Dungeness crab sport fishery opens statewide this Saturday, Nov. 2. Every year at this time, recreational crab fishing enthusiasts set out in pursuit of these tasty crustaceans. Some set hoop nets and crab traps from boats and piers while others fish crab loop traps on the end of a fishing rod. Still others will dive in to take the crabs by hand.
“Crab populations appear to be strong coming off another record-setting year in the commercial fishery,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Senior Environmental Scientist Pete Kalvass, who oversees the Invertebrate Management Project. “However, crab in local areas of northern California above Cape Mendocino may be somewhat underweight for the first few weeks of the season due to a late molt.”
The most popular methods for catching the tasty crustacean are with crab pots (or traps), loop traps and hoop nets. There is no limit to the number of pots or nets that can be fished recreationally, except when fishing from a public fishing pier where only two fishing appliances may be used. Recreational crabbers may keep up to 10 Dungeness crabs per day of either sex, or six crabs if fishing from a party boat south of Mendocino County. No one may possess more than one daily bag limit, and no Dungeness crab may be taken from San Francisco or San Pablo bays, which are important crab nursery areas.
CDFW reminds sport crabbers that traps and nets for Dungeness crab may not be set before 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 2. For those fishing with hoop nets, remember that regulations require raising the nets to the surface to inspect the contents at least every two hours. Any undersized crabs or other species that are accidentally caught can be more quickly released. This regulation ensures that fishermen closely monitor their gear and do not allow any equipment to be abandoned in state waters. Trap fishermen should also closely monitor their traps because lost trap gear can continue to fish and become a self-baiting crab killer.
The recreational size limit for Dungeness crab is five and three-quarter inches measured across the shell, directly in front of and excluding the lateral spines. Crab taken from party boats south of Mendocino County must measure at least six inches across. For a measurement diagram, please see the CDFW website at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=59205&inline=true.
Dungeness crabs generally prefer cooler northern and central California waters and are uncommon south of Point Conception. They are usually found on sandy or sand-mud bottoms at depths of less than 300 feet, although they can be found in almost any sea floor habitat, and have been documented down to 750 feet.
For more information regarding recreational Dungeness crab fishing regulations and other crab species, please visit the CDFW Marine Region website at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/invertebrate/crabs.asp.