Living Center Oregon

Sustainable Living Center Oregon

Crabbing Oregon Coast

crap_2The Dungeness Crab is a sustainable food source because the females and young males are NOT harvested.  This makes it possible that this food source could go on for generations.

The Dungeness crab which is named after Dungeness, Washington.   Dungeness crabs move between Oregon’s bays and the ocean. The bays are open all year to recreational crabbing.  Crabs tend to get pushed around with the tides and also tend to settle into channels formed by those tides and river flow. If you can find a place in the Siletz River channel, your odds go up. If you want to crab where it’s best for you, such as an enclosed boat basin, your odds go down.

If you are crabbing and are catching at least some crab, then at least you know they are there; if you are getting nothing, likely it’s time to move. Many people crab in areas sheltered from the wind and far off the beaten path – and whining how the crabs are not to be found.

Justin Ainsworth, shellfish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said timing your crabbing trip in the fall is more important to success than figuring out which bay to try. Most bays will be primed with crabs in the latter part of the calendar year, with late September through November usually the very best, with pretty decent crabbing possible from late summer to early winter.

ellgraww2It is a species of crab that inhabits eelgrass beds and bottoms on Siletz Bay.  They are relatively short lived with a maximum life expectancy of about 10 years. They have a wide, long, hard shell, which they must periodically molt to grow; this process is called ecdysis.  They eat clams and small fish.  They are also an effective scavenger for anything dead lying on the bottom.

Most commercially caught Dungeness are 4 years old when they are 6 ¼- 7 inches wide across their carapace. Every spring, female Dungeness molt, which attracts male crabs to both mate with and protect them while their shells are soft. Males molt in the late summer. Since the males do not have a protector while their shells are soft, they generally bury themselves in the sand, making them more difficult to attract to crab pots.  They can be found throughout the sandy and muddy areas in the shallowest parts of bays and rivers.

Time of year

Smaller estuaries and those with fresher water influence may be good during the late summer through the early winter. Fall is typically the best time to crab. Beginning in September, crabs will tend to be more “filled out,” meaning there is a higher percentage of quality meat. You can tell meat quality by the condition of the shell. Hard-shelled crabs will contain 20-30 percent meat by weight, compared to soft-shelled crabs which can be as low as 12 percent meat. After heavy rainfall and resulting freshets, crab tend to be less abundant in the bays.

Time of day

july 12“Slack water” also called “Slack Tide” (the times of peak high or low tide) are the best times to crab. During swift tidal exchanges crab often bury themselves, but at slack water more crabs are walking around foraging, since they are being less affected by tidal currents. Slack-tide is a favorite time to harvest Crabs.  This is the roughly one-hour time slot on each side of the high and low tides for the day (one hour on each side equals a two-hour time slot). At this time the tide is moving the slowest, allowing scavengers, like crabs, to roam around and look for food without needing to fight the current. This is only a general rule though, crabs can be caught anytime.

Where to find Crabs

ellgrawwStick to the edge of eelgrass beds. Just look for stems of eelgrass and other debris floating on the water’s surface and drop there. The crabs hang out in the grass so that’s where you should be crabbing.  The Siletz River empties into the Siletz Bay, resulting in a delta miles-wide expanse of mudflats and salt marsh riven with snaking tidal channels. What makes Siletz Bay special is not merely mud, though, but what lives in the mud: eelgrass, specifically native Zostera marina, or common eelgrass, and the exotic Zostera japonica, accidently introduced on the shells of non-native oysters. A combination of nutrient-rich substrate, pancake-flat shoreline, and The mild winter weather allow the eelgrasses to flourish in the bay.

Legal season

Crabbing is open in bays, beaches, tide pools, piers and jetties year-round.

Three (3) Ways to Catch Crabs

1.  Short Soak Time Crabbing

dock1Short Soak Time Crabbing means, you have to pull the crab ring every so often to snare the crabs.  There is no advantage to leave your ring or pot over night.  This type of Crabbing is usually done from a dock, not a boat.

Newport, Oregon has dock for this type of crabbing and takes crabbing very seriously. In fact, the phrase “The Dungeness Capital of the World” became a registered trademark of the city in 2007. Newport’s commercial crabbers have been harvesting record numbers of this prized culinary crustacean for over a decade.  Crabbing from a dock or pier is much easier and less expensive than crabbing from a boat, although the availability of crab is limited to the specific area that you choose to drop your traps.

The Port of Newport public fishing pier (located between the Rogue Brewery and the historic Newport Bay Bridge) in South Beach, and the Abbey Street and Bay Street piers of the Historic Bay Front are some of the best spots to crab. Tie off the end of your crab line to the pier and position your pots and ring to not interfere with boat traffic.  You can either use a Crab Pot or a Crab Ring for Dock Crabbing.

Difference between Crab Rings and Crab Pots

A Dungeness crab is a dumb little sea creature, but when the ground moves underneath them they have enough sense to think all hell is breaking loose and it’s time to get out of the  crab ring.  If you are using a crab ring and pulling real slow, your crab will be crawling off your crab ring.

If you can’t do this, get a crab pot that will at least keep them in for the most part.  Crab pots are heavier and harder to pull than rings, but your success is much less affected by pulling traps up slowly.

Crab Ring

ring1A Crab Ring consist of two concentric metal rings with tethers attached to the outer ring. Netting is attached covering both rings. When the ring in resting, it lays flat on the sea bottom. When the ring is pulled up the outer ring rises above the lower ring, creating a wall around the inner ring.

A float is attached to the top of the harness and the harness ropes up about the ring. Without the float, the ropes will lie flat on the ring, and when pulled, any crabs who happen to be straddling the ropes will be tossed off the ring.

Ring traps fish much faster than any other pots. This is because the crabs can walk directly onto the ring without dealing with any ramps or doors. Of course, without these doors the crabs are free to leave whenever they want. Consequently, these rings should be pulled very often. The longest to leave a ring down is 20 minutes.

When pulling these rings, pull quickly. Crabs can swim fairly fast, and if you do not pull fast enough, they can swim right out.

Slip Ring

slip ringSlip Ring consist of two metal wire circles spaced ten or so inches apart by vertical metal posts. A cylinder of netting is attached to the bottom circle and then again to a metal ring which wraps loosely around the vertical supports. A harness is then attached to the free metal ring. The crabs can then run freely into the ring. When the ring is pulled, the metal ring pulls of the netting, creating a complete enclosure.

The crabs are free to come and go as they please. The main difference is that once you begin to pull the ring, no crabs can leave. These should be check often.  When using crab rings, be sure to pull quickly to allow the ring to set up in a basket shape and at a consistent speed to retain all the crab within the ring.

With Crab Rings — let them sit at least 10 minutes before checking them, and then pull them up consistently and quickly to allow the basket shape to capture all the crabs in the trap.

With Crab Pots — leave them undisturbed for at least 45 – 60 minutes before pulling them in to examine your catch.

 

Crab Pots

pot1Pots are completely enclosed on all sides, with one-way doors being the only entrance. Once a crab is in, he is in for good, hopefully. The truth is, many crabs escape from these traps. Sure, the number is less than open traps, but it is not zero. Doors can get propped open by other crabs, can get wedges open if the trap settles in the sand, sway open if the pot is resting unevenly on a rock or other debris, or even swung open by a strong current. The most effective style is therefore one with both doors and inclined ramps leading up to the doors. Spacing the entrances off the bottom of the trap eliminates many of the before mentioned issues. Additionally, look for pots with the most doors. More doors equal more crabs

It is harder for a crab to find a way in. Once inside though, it is much harder for them to escape. As a result, these pots can be left out for a long time. A few thing to keep in mind: once the bait is gone, no more crabs will join the party.

2.  Shore\Bank Crabbing

It is possible to crab from the bank or shore.  Folding crab traps are a recent innovation that is changing the face of crabbing from the bank or the shore of Siletz Bay.

Pyramid Trap

pyrandPyramid Trap consist of a metal mesh square base with four triangular sides. When lying flat, it takes the shape of a four-pointed star. When pulled, the four sides lift up, creating walls for the base and pushing all the crabs to the center.

Crab Max

crabmaxCrab Max consist of a with two metal netted triangular sides. When lying flat, it takes the shape of a square. When pulled, the two sides lift up, creating walls and pushing all the crabs to the center.  The Crab Max is made in Lincoln City, Oregon.

Click Here …. for a free Crabbing Clinic using the Crab Man.

3. Long Soak Time Crabbing

Crab Door-Style Trap

trapLong Soak Time Crabbing means, you have to leave the crab door-style trap for long period of time and will not lose a crab. You can even leave your trap overnight.  This type of Crabbing is usually done from a boat, where the big crabs are located.

Door-Style Crab Traps come in a collapsible version.  From our experience, we believe they are arguably one of the best for boat crabbing.  It is perfect for crabbing in the Siletz Bay, but we have made some modifications to make it every better.

Mod-1

These traps weigh nothing. For a trap to work effectively it must sit flat and hold the bottom, and these traps are simply too light to do this reliably. We add weight. A good amount of weight. . We cut a sections of 3/4 PVC pipe and fill  them with sand and plug the ends. We zip-tie them to the outside bottom of the trap. This provides plenty of weight for the trap to anchor itself.

Mod-2

The doors are much too light and do not swing freely enough to work effectively. We weight the doors. We thread big lead fishing weights over the metal wire.

Mod-3

Pry open up the “hinges” that fold over the side of the trap. You don’t want to open them to he point where they fall off, just enough to let them swing more freely.

Mod-4

Clip the bottom pegs of the gate off so they only cross the “stop” on the side by a half inch or so. The crab is not going to muscle out of the cage; this extra metal just makes it easier for the doors to get accidentally propped open. So get rid of it.

See what Crabbing in Siletz Bay look like from the Crab’s point of view with a Crab Door-Style Trap

  • Soak time = 1-1\2 hours
  • Yield 3 Crabs each = 1-1\2 pounds

It is construction of vinyl-coated steel wire.  It is our choice for recreational or professional crab enthusiasts. It features four entrance doors and two escape rings, thus one is able to catch and hold the crabs you’re after they enter the door-style trap.

Bait Bag

baitbagAny bait will works. A lot of people use chicken. Fish guts are a good one.  Things that are natural to crabs seem to do better. This includes using fish carcasses, squid, clams and the like. Using these natural baits also have a downside in that seals seem to love them as much as the crab do.   Using a bait bag will often keep the seals at bay. It will also help to keep the crab on your bait longer.

If a crab pulls off a nice piece of your bait, more than likely it’ll crawl off and eat it. So something to stop them from tearing off chunks will improve your odds when using crab rings.

The bait bag is the key. For starters, this eliminates tying bait to the bottom of the trap, which never seemed to work very well anyway. This is especially nice if you are dealing with some rancid bait like fish parts. Just toss them in and clip it shut.

Bait bags prevent the crabs from completely devouring the bait all at once. They are open enough to allow for little bites here and there to keep the crabs happy but closed enough to keep your bait working all day long.  It is more effective to stand the bait bags upright, as this maximizes floor space.

How to Drop your Crab Pot, Ring or Trap

Wait for the Pot, Ring or Trap to hit bottom, then repeatedly lit and drop the pot in the bay bottom. This not only ensures a good, solid, flat resting place, it churns up the surrounding water. Small bits of food that were sitting on the bottom, along with bits of food from inside the trap drift up and away attracting any crabs in the area.

Gloves

Gloves prevent jellyfish stings from tentacles wrapped around your rope, along with alleviating some of the pain that comes with handling crabs.

Sorting Crabs

Quickly sort through the crabs, being careful to not break crab legs or get your fingers pinched.  An experienced crab handler will sort crabs by keeping them at ease. They want to get out, but they don’t want to be forcefully grabbed. A quick shake of the pot is often more effective then reaching directly for them.

Be sure to carefully and quickly release crab, do not throw them from heights as this will often crack their carapace and kill them.

REGULATIONS

  1.  Crab may be taken using crab rings, pots or baited line (limited to 3 rings, pots or lines per person) by hand; dip net; or rake. Pots may be left overnight.
  1. Bays, estuaries, beaches, tide pools, piers and jetties are open all year. The ocean is closed for Dungeness crab October 16 through November 30.
  1. No more than 1 daily catch limit per day may be taken per person. No more than 2 daily catch limits per person may be in possession.
  1. Minimum size for Dungeness crab is 5 ¾ inches. Size is measured in a straight line across the back immediately in front of, but NOT including the widest points.male
  1. Undersized and female Dungeness crab and unwanted red rock crab must be immediately released unharmed.
  1. Crabs may not be mutilated so that sex, size, or species cannot be determined prior to landing. Mutilated crabs may not be transported across state waters.
  1. No holding pots, holding devices, or live boxes are allowed in the ocean. Holding pots, holding devices or live boxes in bays and estuaries cannot retain more than 24 Dungeness and 48 red rock crab per holding container.

Preparing Crabs to Eat

About one-quarter of the crab’s weight is meat. The flesh has what is a delicate flavor and slightly sweet taste.

Live crabs cab be cooked simply by dropping them into boiling salt water, waiting for a boil to return, and then allowing it to continue for 15 minutes, after which time the crabs are removed and placed into cold water to cool, and then cleaned.  When the whole crab is cooked in liquid, domoic acid may leach into the cooking liquid. It is recommended to discard the cooking liquid, and do not use it in other dishes, such as sauces, broths, soups, etc.

Another method of preparing crab is called half backing. Half backing is done by flipping the crab upside down and chopping it in half (from head to “tail”), after which the guts and gills can be scooped or hosed out. Many consider half backing to be superior to cooking the entire crab, because the meat is not contaminated by the flavor or toxins of the guts. Furthermore, half backed crabs boil faster or can be quickly steamed instead of boiled.

Keep in mind that seals and sea lions may eat bait they are attracted to and that they can access (e.g. laying out on a crab ring).  You can minimize this problem by using a bait bag or box, using bait that they don’t eat (e.g. turkey legs), avoiding areas where they are prevalent, or by using pots.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s shellfish program monitors recreational crab harvest in a number of Oregon’s bays.  Click Here …. for Current crabbing reports

Be extra cautious when reaching into a pot or ring full of crab; a pinch from a crab can be very painful.  Handle the crab from the rear with a thumb on the underside or by grasping the rear legs.

Releasing “soft shell” crab is strongly recommended.  Soft shell crab are newly molted.  The volume of meat is low and the quality is usually stringy and less palatable.

Be sure to carefully and quickly release unwanted crab; do not throw them from heights as this will crack their carapace and kill them.  It is illegal to retain only the claws of any species.

Recreational crabbing also is open in the ocean off Oregon, but unlike bays there is a seasonal ocean closure from Oct. 16 through Nov. 30. Ocean crabbing requires larger boats and higher skills, and better conditions, so bay crabbing is more popular with sport boaters.

Dungeness crab is in season on the Oregon Coast from mid-November to June, and is eaten with delight in worldside, and shipped to other locales as well. The finest crab is caught between November and March, so try to get meat early in the season, if you can. The meat is rich, savory, and so delicious that many people enjoy eating Dungeness crab plain, although there are a variety of tasty preparations for it including salads, sandwiches, crabcakes, and seafood stews like cioppino.

The important thing to remember when cooking this type of crab is that the meat has an excellent and unique flavor which should not be overwhelmed by other ingredients; less really is more. Taste the meat plain before adding seasonings, and use a light hand to dress crab, allowing your guests to actually taste it. Preferably, crab should be cooked live, so clean it after it comes out of the boiler or steamer by splitting it down the middle and removing the center section, along with scraping away the gills on either side.

cookCrabbing is one of the Oregon Coast’s most enjoyable pastimes. The thrill of pursuing these cagey creatures is justly rewarded with savory table fare. A sport that can be shared with the entire family, crabbing continues to grow in popularity

 

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This entry was posted on April 23, 2018 by .