Fresh caught by your own hands Dungeness crab can be included in tablefare with Sunday morning's 7 a.m. start of the 2012 summer personal use crab season in south and central portions of Washington's inland waters.
All inside marine sport fishery management zones except the northernmost Marine Area 7 open on a five-day-a-week schedule (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) during the early or summer crabbing season that will run to Monday, Sept. 3.
Everyone, regardless of age, who fishes inland waters for Dungeness and red rock crab must have Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Endorsement and the accompanying summer catch record card. Both documents are free to youth up to age 14, but the endorsement carries a fee for all others.
This paperwork must be with anyone engaged in recreational crabbing and immediately upon retaining legal Dungeness keepers all must list them in ink on the CRC. Red rock crab that are caught and retained need not be recorded.
LOCAL WATERS LATER
Marine Area 7's waters, divided into two sub-areas, will become available for crabbing in staggered openings in the next 45 days
Crabbing starts in Sub-zone 7 South waters including greater Bellingham Bay (including Samish, Padilla and Bellingham) plus all expanses around the San Juan Islands Sunday, July 15.
The last of the summer crab openings occurs in Gulf of Georgia (Marine Area 7 North) including areas off Neptune Beach, Cherry Point, Birch Bay, Point Whitehall, Semiahmoo and Boundary Bay Thursday, Aug. 16.
Compensating for the late starts, summer crabbing in these two zones will stretch beyond the Labor Day weekend general closure to Sunday, Sept. 30.
WHERE TO START THIS WEEK
For Whatcom County crabbers out for Dungeness and red rock crab, the nearest legally available crabbing venues are Swinomish Channel south of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad Bridge and the waters of Skagit Bay east of Deception Pass in Marine Area 8-1.
On the north end of the Swinomish Channel there is a launch ramp (for smaller trailered boats) on the channel's east bank under the Berentsen Bridges (the State Route 20 crossing). Don't set pots in the lane of boat travel, be sure to observe the rule limiting crabbing hours near the railroad bridge and note that the bridge itself is the boundary between open waters (Area 6) to the south and the still-closed Area 7 to the north.
The Deception Pass State Park launch at Cornet Bay (on the Whidbey Island side) provides small boat access to Dungeness digs in Similk Bay, around Skagit, Kiket and Hope islands and near Ben Ure Spit.
And as long as you can proscribe the line between marine areas 6 and 7 southwest of Deception Pass and set inside area 6 waters, you may crab on the west side of Whidbey Island, too.
GEAR AND LIMITS
For personal use crab gathering, the rules allow two units of gear (pots, rings, star traps) per crab fisher.
Fishing pole-presented snares and hand-held hoops or nets also are legal, but devices that can pierce carapaces are prohibited.
For more details on bio-degradable and other qualities that must be built into all set-and-forget crab gear, check page 135 of the 2012 Fish Washington sport-fishing regulations pamphlet.
Every personal use crabber is allowed to keep five male Dungeness crabs each day whose shells are hard and measure at least 6 1/4 inches across (not including the points) the top of the carapace. For gender identification characteristics and where to do a shell pinch test, check regulations page 132.
Red rock crab, the only other keeper-eligible crab species in Washington waters, also now have minimum size and daily limit specifications of five inches and six per day.
MORE ABOUT PAPERWORK
Everyone regardless of age who fishes for and retains Dungeness crab in Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca waters during any legal opening summer or fall/winter must have a crab catch record card to immediately document the crab they keep.
There is a modest fee that everyone (except youth) pays for the Puget Sound Dungeness endorsement but all first catch cards are free. Replacements and subsequent CRCs cost $12.10 each.
Crabbers who plan to fish only the summer opening period to Monday, Sept. 3, may decline the winter card and therefore do not have to worry about making a report of effort/catch for the late stanza. For crabbers on the north end of Marine Area 7 it's advisable to get both the summer (early) and fall/winter (late) card so they can fish without a break in the month of September.
But everyone who does take out a catch record card must make the report even if they did not fish or did crab but caught nothing.
Reporting is easy and can be done online during periods in September and January. However, crabbers forgetting or shunning this obligation will be assessed a $10 civil penalty on their next Washington fishing license purchase.
OTHER JULY OPTIONS
Summer salmon season 2012 opens in selected inland waters marine areas on the first of July, though the long-standing spring and summer chinook protection zone in greater Bellingham Bay remains closed as do greater Skagit Bay, Port Susan and Port Gardner waters.
The new month-long lower Skagit's sockeye salmon fishery enters its last 16 days, while the longer running hatchery spring chinook fishery in the Skagit's Rockport to Marblemount reach enters its final half-month stanza.
Summer steelhead are showing in the Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers, which should be dropping as the 2011-12 Cascade snowpack wanes.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.