In honor of the opening of Dungeness and Alaskan Red King crab seasons I thought it would be fun to share some information about these fisheries. Dungeness crab and Alaskan Red King crab are members of the Order Decopoda that also includes crayfishes, lobsters, prawns and shrimp – species all united by the shared characteristic of having 10 legs. Decopods are members of the subphylum, Crustacea, found within the phylum Anthropoda. In other words, these are delicious animals with lots of legs to munch on and a protective shell!
To view a great NPR slideshow on California Crabbers click here:
Dungeness Crab (Cancer magister)
Distribution: Coastal intertidal zone to 170 meters deep. Commonly found north of
Length of Season: November through February
Type of Fishing Gear Used: Pots baited with herring, squid, or clams. Pot size and number of pots per vessel are regulated. There are also escape holes for undersized crab.
Fishery Regulations: Female crabs are not allowed to be harvested (they are thrown back), and only males over 6.25 inches in diameter may be kept. The duration and timing of the season avoids critical growth and molting periods in the Dungeness crab biological life cycle. However, individual fishing quotas are not issued and this results in a “derby” style fishery with intense pressure on crabbers during the first few weeks of the season. Since the Dungeness crab fishery is one the last well-managed, healthy fisheries in
Regulatory Agencies: The federal government allows the states of
Fishery Status: The Dungeness crab fishery started in
Alaskan Red King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus)
Distribution: Alaskan Red King Crabs live at depths between 40-200 meters from
Length of Season: Very short, on the order of days to a few weeks in November.
Type of Fishing Gear Used: Pot gear is used and vessels are limited to a certain number of pots. Although pot gear can damage rocky sea-bottom habitat, the effects are lessened in sand and silt bottoms – where Alaskan Red King crabs are caught. Additionally, Alaskan Red King crab pot gear has been modified to reduce bycatch through the use of escape panels, and rings have been added that reduce ghost fishing (when lost gear continues to trap or catch marine life).
Fishery Regulations: There are restrictions on the minimum size and sex of crab (only large males over 6.5 inches wide can be harvested) and the type and amount of gear that can be used on each vessel.
Regulatory Agencies: The federal government (National Marine Fisheries Service) and the state of
Fishery Status: Alaskan Red King crab is currently not overfished and areas that have experienced overfishing or excessive by-catch in the past are currently closed. Like the Dungeness crab fishery, allowing only large males to be harvested insures that males reach reproductive maturity and reproduce before they are removed from the population. Additionally, fishery managers have implemented several programs to conserve the species, improve crabbers’ safety, and insure economic stability for dependent coastal communities. These programs include:
- The Crab Rationalization Program decreases fishing capacity (in terms of the number of vessels fishing in Alaska) through the creation of a limited access system that allocates specific quantities of crab (includes Red King and Tanner crabs) to harvesters, processors, and coastal communities. By eliminating the derby-style fishing, crab boats can fish for reasonable lengths of time with more rest because they know they are allotted a certain amount of crab each season. The Alaskan Sablefish (Black cod) and Halibut fisheries are already managed similarly.
- The Crab Buyback Program started in 2004 with the goal of encouraging a reduction in fishing capacity by paying crabbers to relinquish fishing vessels and licenses. NOAA (the Federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) paid fishermen for their vessels and licenses in order to increase stock conservation and end overfishing.
- The Crab Community Development Program allocates 10% of the total allowable catch to the Crab Community Development Quota Groups for the purpose improving the economic status of
Sources: California Department of Fish and Game,