The Oregon Dungeness crab fishery is one of the few remaining state managed fisheries in the country. While more complicated fisheries are regulated under Federal Fisheries Management Plans (FMP’s) by regional management councils, the Dungeness crab fishery in Oregon is managed by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) using a simple system known as the 3 S’s – Size, Sex & Season.
Size – Only mature male crabs measuring at least 6 ¼ inches across the back of the shell are harvested. Undersized male crabs are returned to the ocean to ensure a healthy ‘breed stock.
Sex – ALL female crabs are released unharmed and return to the ocean floor, where they continue the mating cycle to insure healthy stocks and future harvests.
Season – The annual harvest begins each year on December 1, when the crabs are hard-shelled, full of meat and in their prime. The season closes on August 14th to minimize handling so that post molt, soft-shelled crabs can fill out’ undisturbed.
This management method has served the resource well for decades and ensures that the Dungeness fishery is truly sustainable.
Additional Fishery & Gear Regulations
Harvest methods in the Dungeness fishery are very targeted, resulting in little by catch mortality. Gear regulations are designed with conservation in mind. State law requires that each crab pot have two female escape rings so that females, and undersized males, may exit at will. The lid closure of the pots must have a biodegradable component (cotton twine) so that pots lost during winter storms will eventually release the trapped crabs, virtually eliminating ‘ghost fishing’.
A weekly trip limit goes into effect in early June through the end of the season, as a disincentive to all-out effort and the potential of handling mortality on soft, post-molt crabs. In 1996, with the backing of the commercial crab fleet, the state imposed a system of limited entry in the Dungeness fishery to minimize the prospects of over-capitalization. 450 crab permits were created, based on historic participation in the fishery. The fleet will never exceed that level.
In 2006, a pot limit went into effect that reduced the number of pots in the ocean by 50,000 and capped the number any one permit-holder could fish at 500. In Oregon, we take pride in the sustainability of our crab fishery and continue to seek ways to ensure that our hundred-year plus history has an equally impressive future.