Well, you have waited 15 minutes and you are now going to
pull the trap up to see if it caught any crabs. You quickly pull
the rope and notice that the trap is a bit heavier before. You
take it as a good sign and pull it up some more. As the trap ascends
to the surface, you get a better view of what is actually in the
trap. But to your surprise, the trap holds no crabs but a huge
purple and slimy-looking creature feasting upon the bait!! Instead
of crabs, you caught yourself a big sunflower star.
Other than crabs, you'll probably also meet some of the other marine wildlife living along the coast of British Columbia. Here is a list of creatures I saw during my crabbing trips. This is only a very short list and you may see some other creatures which are not mentioned on this webpage.
When you pull your traps up, sometimes you'll end up with something other than crabs. The species listed below seem to have a knack at getting into crab traps to feed on the bait. You'll probably catch more of these if you use "open traps" such as ring nets or pyramid traps which are easier to get into. Whenever you find one of these freeloaders, please don't hurt the animals but return them to the waters. It'll probably be better for you to move these guys away from where your traps are going to be since they just can't resist a free meal and may find their way back into your traps if you let them go near the location of your traps.
A Graceful crab
The Graceful crab (Metacarcinus gracilis) is the third common crab specie you can catch with a trap in the Lower Mainland area. They get pulled up by traps fairly often and are usually dismissed as undersize Dungeness crabs because of the similarities in appearance. The easiest way to tell a Graceful crab apart from a Dungeness is by looking at the legs. The legs of Graceful crab carry a purplish colour while a Dungeness' do not. The Graceful crab also have smoother pinchers and a white outline on its carapace. With an average carapace width of 4 inches (10-12cm), Graceful crabs don't grow nearly as big as their larger meatier cousins and usually aren't used for human consumption.
Orchre starfish of different colours
Starfish are pretty common along the tidal zones of British Columbia and you'll frequently see some clinging to rocks or the wooden posts of piers during low tide. I'm not 95% sure exactly which species of starfish are present but the most common starfish around the Lower Mainland seems to be the Orchre starfish (Pisaster ochraceus). This species of starfish is about a foot in diameter and can be of many colours but the most common colour seems to be the dark pink/purple. Like most starfish, the Ochre starfish typically prey on mussels and other stationary mollusks but they won't pass up a free meal (like the bait in a crab trap) if they come across one.
A sunflower star on the prowl
Another member of the Echinoderms you might find is the sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides). The sunflower star is probably the largest starfish on the Pacific Coast, reaching over two feet in diameter. It has up to 24 arms and can be purple, pink, orange, red or yellow. Sunflower stars are voracious predators that feed on many types of smaller animals and can move pretty quickly for a starfish. Of course, they also like to scavenge and that's why sometimes they end up in crab traps. I don't think sunflower stars or any other types of starfishes are good for eating, but it is sure an impressive (or disgusting, depending on your tastes) if you find a big one in your trap.
Other than starfish, I have also caught some small fish when I went crabbing. The fish are from various species but they are all pretty small (around 3-5 inches) and therefore probably no good for human consumption. These fish seem to be pretty common around the Lower Mainland and are easily caught by fishing lines. They are certainly small enough to get into crab traps.
Below are some marine wildlife that you might see in the distance.
These creatures are probably too big to get caught in a crab trap
and usually stay away from piers and docks occupied by humans.
A harbour seal in some kelp
If you look out into the waters during a crabbing trip, sometimes
you might see a greyish head pop out of the surface and look around.
Chances are that you have spotted a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina),
a fairly common marine mammal. Harbour seals used to
stay clear of crabbing spots due to the presence of people, but
over the years they have learned about the free food that is crabbing
bait, so don't be too surprised if one of them shows up and messes
with your traps (especially if you are not using cages or pots).
To prevent losing your bait to these marauders, make sure you
secure the bait tightly and you may even have to modify your traps/bait
bags just to be safe.
Other than seal, you'll probably see other marine mammals such
as sea otters and may be even some whales. The waters around the
Lower Mainland are full of wildlife so you shouldn't be surprised
if you see something amazing.