A great deal of thought, time and effort has gone into ensuring that the Dungeness fishery is self-sustaining.
When we started crabbing back in the 1980’s there were very few rules one had to follow. Licenses were available for a song and as a result there were many hundreds of participants in the business. There was no limit on the amount of gear one could fish and virtually no method of making the fishermen accountable.
Time have certainly changed and clearly for the better in the context of perpetuating this valuable resource. The first major change to the fishery occurred in 1990 with the introduction of limited entry licensing. Licenses that had not reported a set amount of landings in each of three consecutive years were permanently disqualified from fishing crab. This brought the number of licenses down to around 220 for the entire B.C. coast. Vessel size is restricted to the physical length of the license which helps to prevent over capitalisation and reduce overall fishing effort.
Crab traps were originally equipped with one 100 mm escape ring. The idea here is to allow smaller and female crabs as well as other bycatch an opportunity to leave the trap. This results in reduced handling of crab that are not harvestable anyway, and helps to ensure their survival. Recently many areas moved to go to two escape rings of 105 mm to enhance this management tool.About ten years ago “rot cord” was introduced into the trap closing mechanism. This is comprised of a single loop of #120 untreated cotton twine. The concept is simple but highly effective. When a trap is lost to the fisherman the rot cord disintegrates over the course of a few weeks. Eventually it breaks, allowing the lid to open and the trap occupants to go on their way. “Ghost fishing” is thus prevented.
Retention of female crabs is illegal for obvious reasons. There is also a regulation in place to curtail the retention of soft shell crab. Soft shell crab are very vulnerable and not marketable but the temptation is there for a few fishermen so a regulation had to be introduced. Conservation officers are equipped with a tool called a durometer. Adopted from the plastics industry, a durometer measures the tensile strength of the crab carapace.
In a further effort to limit the handling of soft crab a rule was introduced in 2009 limiting fishermen to one gear rotation per week during the major soft shell period in February through April. In area A fishermen pay for sampling of the crab stocks to determine an opening date that protects soft shell stocks.
Over the years record keeping (logbooks) has become mandatory. The logbook must be carried on board and fishermen must record GPS coordinates, depths fished, type of bait, statistical areas fished, number of daily trap hauls and of course the amount of legal crab retained. This data must be submitted monthly for keypunch into the DFO database. Failure to comply can result in charges and denial of license privileges.
Electronic Monitoring (EM) was introduced to the fishery a few years back. Each vessel is equipped with a “black box” that records vessel position, speed, and the number of trap hauls. Each trap is equipped with a chip which, when scanned by the crew, records a number specific to each trap. This data is recorded on an SD card which must be submitted at the end of each month to a private service provider. In terms of sustainability this tool is reasonably effective at making sure trap quotas are not exceeded and that vessels stay out of areas closed to commercial fishing.
Crab fishermen understand the importance of nurturing the resource that feeds them. A number of the above restrictions came about as the result of collaborative consultation between industry and the government and at the suggestion of fishermen.
Long live the crab fishery!