To catch more crab, use pots wisely

Chris Tucker
Posted 7/4/17

Cheryl Lowe recalls a boat trip she took on Port Townsend Bay two years ago. The goal of the trip: to haul derelict crab pots and fishing nets from the bay floor.

“They pulled up 300 crab pots …

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To catch more crab, use pots wisely


Cheryl Lowe recalls a boat trip she took on Port Townsend Bay two years ago. The goal of the trip: to haul derelict crab pots and fishing nets from the bay floor.

“They pulled up 300 crab pots just two years ago that were all derelict pots,” said Lowe, who is with the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee.

Old gear can trap and kill crab, fish, sea lions and diving birds over a period of decades after being lost. Such gear can be several layers deep, completely covering reefs.

Now that crab season is underway, Lowe and others are working to educate crabbers about how to handle their crab pots to improve the situation. She hopes that the next time they clean up the bay, they’ll only find a few derelict pots, not hundreds.


With the opening of crabbing season last weekend, the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), along with the Northwest Straits Foundation, plans to be at local ports to educate crabbers on how to keep their pots from being lost. Jefferson County MRC is a volunteer committee appointed by the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners.

The MRC partners with the Northwest Straits Foundation to protect and restore the health of local marine resources.

The Northwest Straits Initiative is educating crabbers to ensure their crab pots are not among the estimated 12,000 that are lost in Puget Sound every year. Those lost crab pots continue to capture crab although there is no one to harvest them, resulting in more than 180,000 Dungeness crab killed each year. That is a lot of wasted crab not making it to the dinner table.

Lowe said crabbers can lose a pot if they do not sufficiently weigh it down to prevent currents from dragging it off. Also, if the line is too short, crabbers can lose sight of the pot when the tide rises. Short lines can also cause the buoy to lift the pot up and allow it to drift away.

Passing boats can accidentally catch on to the ropes and drag a pot off or cut the line. To avoid that problem, crabbers should be mindful of where boat traffic is most common. Lowe said crabbers also should be aware of barges that travel to the Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill.

“Most people know where the shipping lanes are, but sometimes if you’re new or just in for the weekend, you’re not aware of that,” Lowe said.

There are new crabbers every year who may not be aware that lost pots can cause problems, and even old crabbers might not be aware of the issue, Lowe said.

Pot lids should be tied shut with cord that will degrade within three to six months. Cord that lasts longer should not be used.

Pots have small holes that allow undersize crabs to escape. Lowe said volunteers would give away free gauges that can be used to measure crab size. She added that male crabs may be kept, but that female crabs should be released.


Anyone who loses a pot or fishing net is encouraged to report the lost gear on the Northwest Straits Foundation website (, so that it can be more easily recovered. The foundation has removed more than 5,600 derelict fishing nets from Puget Sound, restoring marine habitat and rocky reefs.

Crabbers can be on the lookout for volunteers with the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee at local boat launches during the first two weekends of crabbing season, which included last weekend and July 8-9.

They are to provide educational materials, gauges for measuring the crab catch, and are available to discuss how to correctly set crab pots on order to catch more crab. Crabbers may also find educational materials while purchasing crab licenses and gear at local retailers.

The goal is to help reduce or eliminate lost crab pots in Puget Sound and for everyone to have a successful day on the water.


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