By The Puyallup Tribal Shellfish Department
The Puyallup commercial Dungeness fishery returned this year after a 2-year absence. The commercial season lasted 18 days, from April 20 to May 7. The season opened after a complex series of negotiations involving the Puyallup Shellfish Department, Legal Department, Tribal Council and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The shell condition of the crab has allowed the season to open in late April when the price is usually better. This is important as the Puyallup region is a minor crab producer compared to regions further north. This allows us to get a higher price for our lower volume of crab.
The crab were noticeably deep in our surveys this year. More than half (55 percent) of all legal size males were caught at 150-feet in this years’ surveys. This is the largest proportion of legal size males ever caught at this depth since surveys started in 2013. Crabbing this deep can present challenges to our fleet as the light weight “box style” traps are still common in the fleet. It is hard to add enough weight to this style of trap to get them to stay on the bottom in those depths.
The fluctuation in abundance is thought to be caused by larval mortality due to increased water temperature. There is some evidence that the Vashon Island area has had a long history of boom and bust abundance cycles.
The Tribal Council opened the Puyallup canoe landing site and docks for the crab fleet to use for the first time. This helped the fleet out by providing a central staging area for crabbers to gear up and deliver their catch to awaiting crab buyers, and ensure appropriate social distancing measures could be taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photos courtesy of Puyallup Tribal member Big Bean-Flores and the Shellfish Department