Fall Brings Our “Other” Special Season Opener

Monterey Bay

Happy clients aboard the Miss Beth last year, hauling big Dungeness crab on a calm fall morning.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Let's Go FIshing Radio Show

by Allen Bushnell
10-23-2020
Website

For Northern California and Monterey Bay, no species historically defines fishing more than the Dungeness crab.  It is right up there with king salmon as a premier catch for both sport and commercial anglers. Just like the anticipation and excitement every spring as anglers ready their boats for salmon season, fall brings our “other” special season opener, and boats are being prepped right now. Closed since July 1, 2020, sport crab season is scheduled to reopen on November 7. 
 
Commercial crab season opens in our area on November 14. This impels sport crabbers to get out as soon as possible to harvest the big meaty crustaceans before the big commercial boats put the pressure on and the crabs scatter. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says “The commercial fishery is closed from July 16 to November 30 in the Northern Management Area and from July 1 to November 14 in the Central Management Area.” This means our Central Area is open to commercial Dungeness fishing for two weeks before the adjacent Northern Management Area. Of course, many commercial crab boats from up north come down past Pigeon Point to get a start on their season. This puts added pressure on the crab stock, and makes things a bit more difficult for local anglers both sport and commercial. Dungeness crab can be a major factor in yearly income for commercial fishers. Scheduled season closures can be amended with “in season changes” for a variety of reasons including whale entanglements and domoic acid levels in tested crabs.
 
Sport regulations remain essentially the same this year. CA DFW cites, “ Minimum size: Five and three-quarter inches measured by the shortest distance through the body from edge of shell to edge of shell directly in front of and excluding the points (lateral spines).” The daily bag limit for sport crabbers is ten crab per person per day. Crabs can be taken by hand by divers and hoop nets are legal to use from boats and piers. Crab “loop traps” are often utilized by anglers from jetties and beaches. In our area, the crab are usually found in deeper waters and most crabbers use large crab pots.  Rules regarding crab pots and traps are very specific and have changed over the past few years.  Here is the latest info from CA DFW: 
 
“1) Crab traps shall have at least two rigid circular openings of not less than four and one-quarter inches inside diameter so constructed that the lowest portion of each opening is no lower than five inches from the top of the trap.
(2) Crab traps shall contain at least one destruct device of a single strand of untreated cotton twine size No. 120 or less that creates an unobstructed escape opening in the top or upper half of the trap of at least five inches in diameter when the destruct attachment material corrodes or fails.
(3) Every crab trap except those used under authority of subsection 29.85(a)(5) of these regulations shall be marked with a buoy. Each buoy shall be legibly marked to identify the operator’s GO ID number as stated on his/her sport fishing license.
(4) Crab traps shall not be deployed and used in ocean waters seven days prior to the opening of the Dungeness crab season.”
 
Old hands have their favorite spots to drop crab pots in Monterey Bay. The traps are set out in a line and that line is moved when necessary to follow the crab movement as weeks progress. Most Dungeness are trapped in 180-220 feet of water in the Monterey Bay. The Dungeness prefer a soft bottom of sand or mud. Crab pots are typically left to “soak” from overnight to a few days. Theft from crab posts is a perennial problem along our coast. DFW law is clear on this point saying, “It is illegal to disturb, move or damage any trap, or remove any saltwater crustacean from a trap, that belongs to another person without having written permission in possession from the owner of the trap (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.80 (a)(3) and Fish and Game Code, section 9002(a)).” The DFW also suggests,”If you suspect someone is illegally disturbing your traps, be sure to report this to your local warden or through CalTIP at 1-800-334-2258.”


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