Crabbing Checklist

For those who just want a simple set of no-frills instructions or don't feel like reading:
Here is a checklist of things to do, pack, and watch out for when you go on your excellent crabbing adventure. Note that this checklist mostly applies to crabbing from the shore. If you going out on a boat, I assume you know what you are doing or else you shouldn't be going out on a boat. Anyways, the list is split into the following sections:

Before the Trip
When You Get There
I Think I Caught a Keeper!

Before the Trip

Before you go on a crabbing expedition, you should:

  • Pick a location: click here for my recommended crabbing spots, but there are many other places around the Lower Mainland area.
    • Visit the DFO's page to check if there are fisheries notices for the location you want to go. No point going to a place where crabbing is no allowed.
  • Plan what day you are going to go. Crabbing spots are usually busier during weekends and holidays. Also make sure to check the weather report since it's no fun crabbing in the rain.
  • Plan when you are going to arrive at the site. You are more likely to get a good spot if you arrive early. Also check the time for high tides in the local newspaper or DFO's tide query as crabbing is the best just before high tide.
  • Plan some other activities to do. Just waiting and checking traps isn't terribly exciting for many people. Bring your fishing reel, a frisbee, or other things to keep yourselves occupied. It helps to do some research about the place you are going to see if there are any public amenities.
  • Make a list of things to pack for the trips. Common items you may need include sunscreen, insect repellent, food and beverages, a bucket (to hold the crabs you've caught), and old newspaper (to pack your catches for transport).
  • Make sure everyone in your party who wants to deploy traps has a valid fishing license. Yes, crabbing constitues as sports fishing. Fishing licenses can be bought online or at these locations. You can visit this section for the license price list and explanations.
  • Read over the rules and make sure you and everyone in your party understand them. Here are the two most important ones:
    • Maximum of two traps per each person who has a valid fishing license.
    • The size and possession limits for the crabs. Keeping female crabs is strictly prohibited.
  • Make sure all of your gear is in working order. It would be pretty disappointing to show up at the crabbing site and find out your traps are broken.
  • Buy bait. Crabs will eat anything that's meat, but from experience the combination of chicken legs and salmon parts work the best.
  • Buy a caliper or special "crab brackets" to measure crabs if you don't already have one.
  • Double check everything before you leave for the trip.

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When You Get There

Once you have arrived at your desired crabbing location:

  • Find a nice spot on the pier/dock, preferably facing out towards the water instead in towards the shore.
  • Be courteous to other crabbers. Make sure your traps are at least two feet away from someone else's traps so the ropes don't get easily tangled.
  • Make sure your bait is secured inside your traps and your traps are securely tied to the shore before tossing the traps into the water.
  • For enclosed cages/pots, check your traps once about every half hour. For open traps such as semi-circle crab nets, ring nets, and star traps, check them every 15 minutes.

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I Think I Caught a Keeper!

You caught a big crab. Great job! Before you stuff your hard-earned catch away though, here are a few things you should do:

  • Flip the crab over and check its gender. You do this by checking the shape of the crab's abdomen. If the abdomen is wide and oval then the crab is female, and you must return it back to the water. If the abdomen is narrow and triangular then the crab is male, which you can keep provided it's large enough. Click here for a more detailed explanation with pictures.
  • Measure the size of the crab. Crabs are measured by the straight line distance of the widest point of the carapace. Use your own caliper to measure the size instead of relying on the built-in brackets found at some piers/docks. Dungeness crabs need to be 165mm wide at the carapace, while red rocks have to 115mm. Return all undersized crabs back to the water. Yes, even those ones that are just off by 1mm.
  • Pinch the large walking legs of the crab. If the leg gives even a little then you have a soft-shelled crab that have just molted. Soft-shelled crabs are full of water but carry less meat than usual. Consider throwing soft-shelled crabs back into the water, but some people insists that the soft-shelled crab meat is the best because the meat is tender, so you are welcome to try it out yourself to see which you prefer.
  • If the crab is male and meets the size requirements, then you have caught a keeper! If you brought a bucket, you can fill it with seawater and store your catches there until you leave. Otherwise wrap each crab up in newspaper so you can easily transport them while keeping them alive. Click here for more details about how to store your catches. Do not store the crabs upside down because they are more likely to die in this orientation.

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