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Outdoors Q&A: New Dungeness Crab Trap Regulations in Place

Health department warns against eating viscera of Dungeness crabs caught off California's northern coast

Crab-trap buoys must display “GO ID” number of the trap’s operator. Click to view larger
Crab-trap buoys must display “GO ID” number of the trap’s operator. (Carrie Wilson)

Q: Are there new regulations for Dungeness crab traps? I heard traps must be marked with the “GO ID” number. Is this something I need to get to put on my traps? When does the season open and are there any other new regulations? (Peter G., Bodega Bay)

A: The recreational Dungeness crab season opened statewide on Nov. 5.

However, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued a warning to recreational anglers not to consume the viscera (internal organs) of Dungeness crab caught in coastal waters north of Point Reyes.

This warning is due to the sporadic detection of elevated levels of domoic acid in the viscera of Dungeness crabs caught off the northern California coast.

Recreational crabbers should consult the CDPH biotoxin information line, 800-553-4133 or CDPH’s Domoic Acid health information webpage for more information.

Several new regulations became effective on Aug. 1, 2016, and are available beginning on page 50 in the Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations book. Some of these include:

• Crab-trap buoys must display the “GO ID” number of the operator of the trap.

This is the unique 10-digit identifier assigned by the Automated License Data System to your profile. It will appear on your fishing license and all documents purchased through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Crab traps must possess a buoy and each buoy must be legibly marked with the trap operator’s GO ID number as stated on his or her sport-fishing license.

This regulation will help ensure that crab traps are being used by the designated operator of the trap to prevent others from unlawfully disturbing or removing crab from crab traps.

This regulation does not apply to traps deployed from commercial passenger fishing vessels (i.e. charter and party boats) or hoop nets.

• Crab traps must contain at least one destruct device made from a single strand of untreated cotton twine size No. 120 or less that creates an unobstructed opening anywhere in the top or upper half of the trap that is at least 5 inches in diameter when this material corrodes or fails.

Destruct devices prevent “ghost fishing” (the continuous trapping of organisms in lost or abandoned trap gear). The cotton twine must be a single strand and untreated in order for the material to corrode relatively quickly on lost or abandoned gear, and to keep the twine from snagging on itself once it comes apart.

The smaller the size of cotton twine used, the faster the material will corrode in lost or abandoned trap gear. The opening must be located in the top or upper half of the trap in case the trap becomes silted in over time.

Try using untreated cotton twine attached between the metal or plastic hook and the rubber strap that keeps the top of the trap lid (or trap side) closed. The cotton twine should be attached with a single loop to aid the destruct process (see illustrations).

• Crab traps must not be deployed or fished less than seven days prior to the opening of the Dungeness crab season.

New this season, crab traps used to take either Dungeness crab or rock crab can’t be used or deployed in state waters from Oct. 29 until the Dungeness crab fishery opens at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 5. Any crab traps found in ocean waters prior to this seven-day period should be removed from the water by Oct. 28.

This is to prevent the unlawful take of Dungeness crab before the season starts. “Take” is defined as hunting, catching, capturing or killing of fish, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, crustaceans or invertebrates, or attempting to do so.

New this year: In an effort to help recreational crabbers when deploying crab-trap gear to reduce surface lines and entanglements with animals (especially marine mammals and sea turtles) and other vessels, CDFW created the Best Practices Guide available online. Please check it out.

And although there is no time limit for the checking of crab-trap gear (as there is for hoop nets), frequent visits will ensure traps are in good working condition and that crab captured in the trap are not held for too long.

Regulations remaining in place include: Every crab trap must be outfitted with two rigid circular escape openings that are a minimum of 4¼ inches in diameter and located so the lowest portion is, at the most, 5 inches from the top of the trap. This is to allow small crabs to easily escape from the trap.

Crab traps can only be used in state waters north of Point Arguello, Santa Barbara County. There is no limit to the number of crab traps that can be used by recreational crabbers, except the limit is 60 when operating under authority of a commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

The daily bag and possession limit for Dungeness crab remains the same at 10 crabs per day with the minimum size limit 5¾ inches (measured by the shortest distance through the body from the edges of the shell directly in front of and excluding the points/lateral spines).

Dungeness crab can be taken in all ocean waters of the state where they occur, excluding San Francisco and San Pablo bays. They can be taken using hoop nets, crab traps and/or crab loop traps, also known as crab snares, or skin and scuba divers may take them by hand.

Dungeness crab can be taken in freshwater areas of the state between Del Norte and Sonoma counties only by hand or hoop net during the open season, and the same daily bag and size limits apply.

For the latest crab fishing information, visit the CDFW website.

Examples of 5-inch diameter destruct devices using single strand No. 120 untreated cotton twine.

[d-crab-trap-1]

Box trap with single strand No. 120 untreated cotton twine attached to 4 1/4-inch escape ring. (CDFW photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks)

[Escape ring removed. Corners of attachment points to the escape ring are bent down to achieve 5-inch diameter destruct device. photo by J. Langell and J. Hendricks]

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. She can be reached at [email protected].

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