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Dungeness crab in live hold
Dungeness crab in live hold
Commercial Crab Fishing


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The industry survey

About the Dungeness crab fishery

Dungeness crab have been landed commercially on the west coast of the United States since 1848 when San Francisco fishermen began the fishery. The current foundation for regulation in the fishery, size, sex, and season was established 100 years ago! Crabbers of the early 1900’s were limited to 6 inch and larger male crabs with a closed season in the fall. Flash forward to present day and west coast Dungeness crab landings are stronger than anytime in history with regulations nearly identical to those in place in 1905. Since the fishery was established, Oregon has consistently been one of the largest producers of Dungeness crab on the west coast.

The Ocean and Columbia River commercial crab fishery is considered the most valuable single species commercial fishery in Oregon, harvesting a long-term average (25 years) of 14 million pounds of crab per season. Since 1995, the fishery has operated under a limited entry permit system which capped the number of vessels allowed to participate. Initially, 433 permits were issued, but that number has dropped to 428 permits. Another measure to control effort in the fishery was the implementation of pot limits in late 2006, which designated the amount of gear each permitted vessel could use (three tiers of 200, 300 or 500 pots). These policies were in part designed to reduce overcapitalization and excess effort in the fishery. Today, about 335 permits fish for Dungeness crab each year.

Harvest methods

crab pot
Commercial crab pot retrieved
female dungeness carrying eggs
Female Dungeness crab carrying eggs

Crab pots are used for most all commercial crabbing. They are very similar to those used in the recreational fishery, but these pots are not just simple traps. Pots must conform to construction guidelines that efficiently minimize their impact. See the anatomy of a crab pot

Multiple crab pots are set in rows, each on an individual line. Pots are retrieved using hydraulic “crab blocks” which is essentially a power driven winch. An efficient crew can hoist and re-bait as many as 400 pots per day. Pots are predominantly set between 10 and 50 fathoms (60-300 feet) although Dungeness crab commonly occur from intertidal areas to 200 fathoms (1200 feet). Crabs are stored live in holds on boats that are filled with re-circulating sea water and are delivered every few days to fish processing plants.

Biology of harvest

Fishing seasons are built around the “3 S’s” size, sex and season.

Size: Crabs can be harvested commercially only when they reach a size of 6 ¼” carapace width. This assures that the crab will have at least one year of reproduction, but more often two. Recreational harvest is legal at 5 ¾” carapace width.

Sex: Only male crabs are harvested. All females must be immediately released and are left to reproduce throughout their life span.

Season: The commercial crab season generally starts December 1 when crabs shells have hardened, indicating that they have filled out with firm meat. Testing takes place each year before the season to assure crabs harvested average at least 25% meat content (23% North of Cascade Head). Generally the range of meat content of Dungeness crab is 13-30%, depending on a combination of molt and reproductive timing which relate to environmental factors such as ocean conditions and food availability.

Other commercial crab fisheries


Kelly Corbett - Marine Resources Program, Newport
Phone: (541) 867-4741

Troy Buell - Marine Resources Program, Newport
Phone: (541) 867-4741


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