Subsistence harvest of Dungeness crabs by Alaska residents is permitted in some Alaska state waters. Bag limits and seasons are generally more liberal and gear requirements less restrictive than for personal use or sport fisheries and vary by area. Crabs may be harvested by hand, dip net, using hooked or hook less hand lines, or with pots, ring nets or dive gear. Subsistence fishery catch may be shared with all members of the community.
Major commercial fisheries for this species occur in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. The Alaska Fishery and Fur Seal Industries publication made the first historical reference to the Alaska Dungeness crab fishery in 1916. This crab was first commercially canned at Seldovia in 1920. Today, Dungeness crab is processed by shore based processors, catcher processors, and floating processors. Crab product type varies; where processors are well-established and air service unreliable, crab are generally sold whole or in sections as a fresh or frozen product. However, where air service is reliable and processing capacity less so, crab are often shipped live to specialty markets where they can fetch a premium price.
Dungeness crab are caught by commercial fishers using circular pots typically baited with herring, squid, or clams. Pots are usually about 40 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. They are constructed of 3/4-inch round, steel frames wrapped in rubber tubing then covered with stainless steel wire mesh woven in 2-inch squares. Two 4-3/8" diameter escape rings are required to be built in each pot to keep the pot from filling with undersize crab.
The number of pots that can be set by a vessel and the fishing season varies by management area in Alaska.
Personal use fishery
Residents of Alaska may harvest Dungeness crab for personal use. This fishery is often incidental to recreational boat outings. Crab pots similar to those used in the commercial fishery, ring nets, diving gear, dip nets, and hooked or hookless handlines can all be used to harvest crab for personal use. Dungeness crab are sometimes stranded by minus tides and can be picked up by an observant beachcomber. Be forewarned, the mighty pincers of this crab can move quickly and catch you unaware!
Personal use anglers fish at depths between 3 and 20 fathoms where more legal sized male crab can be found. They usually bait their pots with fresh fish carcasses, the most convenient bait. The number of crab that can be kept varies, depending on the area fished. To take more than you can use is a waste and a shame, because the Dungeness crab is one of the great fringe benefits of living in coastal Alaska.
Dungeness crab are usually boiled for approximately 20 minutes. As a cautionary note, paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) has been found in the internal organs of Dungeness crab, therefore, butcher the crab before cooking and do not eat the internal organs including the "crab butter" (hepatopancreas). Where or when the toxin is found is unpredictable, but high levels have been found in Dungeness crab throughout Alaska. Take this one precaution and continue to enjoy one of Alaska's tastiest seafoods!