By Carrie Wilson, Marine Biologist, California Department of Fish and Game
Question: Recreational Dungeness crab fishermen often seem to hold onto crab in excess of their limit while they are still crabbing, then they cherry pick the best ones and throw back the extras after pulling all their pots. Is this legal? Say for example I’m fishing alone and drop three pots. When I retrieve the pots, the first one contains 10 crab, and I put them all in my fish box. The second pot also has 10 crab and I also put them all in the box. I pull the last pot, then sort through all the crab and throw back all but the biggest 10 before heading into the harbor. This is how I would prefer to fish, but I think it would be illegal since I should never have more than my limit (10 crab per person) aboard. (Jesse)
Answer: What you describe is high-grading and is absolutely illegal. Every crab over the limit that is in the fisherman’s possession, even if just for a short time, could get them cited for possession of an overlimit. Once a limit is in possession, all other crabs must be immediately returned to the water. If the fisherman keeps 10 legal-sized crabs from his first pot, all other crabs in any subsequent pots must be released.
Why are more male crabs caught in traps?
Question: My son and husband have been sport crab fishing for years. They always release the females but have noticed that the male-to-female ratio in their pots is much higher for males compared to females. I tell them that the females are smarter and stay out of the traps, but I’m sure there is a scientific reason for the difference. They rarely find a female in their pots, and when they do it is late in the season. Any idea why? (Cathi D.)
Answer: While I’m sure your theory of the females just being smarter is probably true (wink), the real reason is more likely because the females are much smaller and the escape ports allow the smaller females to escape more readily from the traps before they are pulled to the surface.
Keeping Dungeness crab females?
Question: I see on many websites that you cannot take female Dungeness, but I see in the regs no comment about females. Have the rules changed now allowing females can be kept? (E.J. K.)
Answer: Recreational fisherman may keep the female Dungeness crab – commercial fishermen must throw them back. Since the females are often so much smaller and less meaty than the males, many fishermen toss them back so they can reproduce more young for future generations. The larger females that meet the minimum size requirements also carry the most eggs and produce the most young, so it makes sense to let females go as a matter of course. However, there is no law that compels you to do so.
Can I use my six pack commercial boat for personal fishing?
Question: I own my boat and have it licensed as a six pack commercial passenger fishing vessel (CPFV). I know that when Dungeness crab fishing, passengers fishing on a CPFV can only take six crabs that must measure six inches minimum. My question is regarding trips that I make with friends and family and no paying passengers. If it’s not a commercial trip, can we all take 10 crabs per person measuring a minimum size limit of 5 ¾ inches like all other recreational crabbers? Would I need to mark my traps with different buoys from those that I use when taking paying passengers out? (Chuck H., Monterey)
Answer: No. Your boat is still a CPFV even when there are no paying customers aboard. Therefore, since the regulation states six crabs for a commercial passenger vessel, you and your passengers may still take only six crabs per person.
Pier fishing baits
Question: What baits that I catch myself can I then use when fishing and crabbing off of a public pier? (Dan T.)
Answer: Any finfish or invertebrate that is legal to take or possess in California may be used as bait while crabbing or fishing. They must be caught in a legal manner — for example, you may not use a rockfish caught accidentally in your crab trap as bait, because rockfish may only be caught using hook-and-line fishing gear. And if you decide to use something with a size limit, it must meet the legal size limit and that finfish or invertebrate must be added to your bag for the day.
These questions and answers have been excerpted from the Department of Fish and Game's California Outdoors Q and A column. Republished with permission. To ask Carrie Wilson a question, contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.