|Swinomish crabbers with their catch. Photo credit: J. Barber|
Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) are found from Alaska to California and are commonly found on sandy substrates at depths up to 750 ft. These crabs feed on clams, smaller crustaceans, and even fishes. It is interesting to know that females need to be buried in the sand for their eggs to attach properly when extruded, with some females remaining buried for weeks at a time. This behavior highlights the importance of protecting sandy bottom habitats for the sustainability of the fishery.
Dungeness crab supports the most lucrative fishery in Washington state, with approximately 10 million pounds harvested annually. The fishery is managed using the 3-S (size, sex, season) management system, which limits the harvest sex and size to male crabs greater than 6.25 inches and limits the harvest season to avoid the species’ sensitive molting period.
Swinomish Fisheries staff conduct pre-season shell hardness testing in order to ensure the crab have completed molting prior to the fishery opening. Catch rates from these pre-season surveys can inform estimates of the commercial catch rates at the beginning of the season. Additionally, Fisheries staff perform on-the-water and port sampling surveys throughout the commercial season in order to monitor the abundance and quality of remaining harvestable Dungeness crab stocks. Lastly, Swinomish Fisheries biologists track in-season catch data, such as catch rate, quality of catch, and daily landings, to ensure harvest targets are met and catch stays within allowable quotas.
You can find publications related to our crab work on the Swinomish publication page under all three publication categories.