“Catch more crab!”
This is a campaign slogan going out to Puget Sound crabbers. It is a positive message, built upon the goals of:
- Helping people avoid losing their crab pots,
- Reducing the number of crabs that go to waste, and
- Increasing the number of crabs available for harvest.
We’ve talked about the problems of lost crab pots that keep on catching crabs on the bottom of Puget Sound. About 12,000 crab pots are lost each year in Puget Sound, killing an estimated 178,000 legal-sized Dungeness crabs that would otherwise be served up for dinner. In January, I described some simple alterations to crab pots that allow crabs to escape when a pot gets lost. See Water Ways, Jan. 28.
Even more basic, however, are proven techniques that help people select equipment and place their crab pots so they don’t get damaged or lost in the first place.
The Northwest Straits Initiative, authorized by Congress in 1998, has been working on the problem of derelict gear for years, including the retrieval of thousands of lost nets and crab pots from Puget Sound. When it came to enlisting the public’s help in prevention, campaign organizers realized that everyone was on the same side, said Jason Morgan of the nonprofit Northwest Straits Foundation.
“We previously focused on the doom and gloom of it, talking about so many crabs killed each year,” Jason told me.
Working with sociologists, campaign organizers realized that “the better way to reach people is not to talk about dead crabs but to say we want you to catch more crabs and keep your crab pots.”
The Northwest Straits Foundation has developed a three-year plan of action, including education for the public; improved communication among crabbers, vessel operators and government officials; and recommendations for improving regulations.
The plan was put together by a working group of 35 people involved in various aspects of crab harvesting, boat traffic and resource protection.
“It was a great collaborative process,” Jason said. “There was no butting of heads or anything like that.”
“Crab pots are lost for a variety of reasons. Causes for loss generally fall into three categories:
- Vessel interaction (both recreational and commercial vessels);
- Improperly configured gear, including improperly tied knots; and
- Improperly placed gear.
“All these categories usually include a degree of user error, either on the part of the crabber, or on the part of the boater or vessel operator.”
The plan includes at least 25 strategies for reducing conflicts between vessel traffic and crab pots, reducing tampering and sabotage, improving crabbing equipment and pot configuration, and removing abandoned crab pots during non-crabbing days.
One of the interesting ideas is to require online registration for recreational crab endorsements on fishing licenses. Applicants would take a short quiz to make sure they know the rules.
Rich Childers, shellfish manager for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the various regulatory proposals in the plan are under advisement. One idea, which has proven effective, is to reduce the size of allowable escape cord (“rot cord”) that opens an escape hatch for the crabs to get out. Studies have shown that approved escape cord takes between 30 and 148 days to disintegrate, and most people use larger cord to last longer.
The time that crabs are trapped and dying on the bottom could be reduced if the rules were changed to require smaller cord. Any rule changes would include a grace period, Childers said, and it would be nice if crabbers could obtain the smaller cord for free.
With crab season underway, a series of videos on the theme “Catch more crab!” couldn’t come at a better time:
- “Set your crab pot so it doesn’t get lost”
- “Tides and currents: How to set your crab pot”
- “How to rig your line so your crab pot doesn’t get lost”
- “Weight your crab pot so it doesn’t get lost”
A longer video shows how to modify a crab pot to make sure that crabs can escape when a crab pot is lost:
The video below provides basic information for first-time crabbers. Meanwhile, outdoors writer Mark Yuasa offered a nice instructional story last week in the Seattle Times.
To check on crab seasons and legal requirements, visits the Recreational Crab Fishing webpage of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.