Dungeness Crab – the season is now

Dungeness Crab – the season is now

Why November? Because the crabs have stopped molting and it is right before the commercial crabbing season begins. Plus, who doesn’t like a little Dungeness Crab at the Thanksgiving table?!

So we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know about crabbing for Dungeness Crabs in Portland.

Everything You Need to Know about Crabbing for Dungeness Crabs

  1. Read the information at the end of this article for safety –  to get the scoop on PSPs and domoic acid.
  2. Recreational crabbing is legal off piers, docks and in the bays and estuaries in Oregon, and November is a prime month to check the tides, grab your shellfish license (Resident* $10.00; Nonresident $28.00), check for current shellfish safety closures to make sure paralytic shellfish poisoning (psp) and domoic acids are not an issue, and toss in your line.
  3. Crabbing in open ocean water is not legal between Oct. 16 to Nov. 30, even with a crabbing license.
  4. Protected areas are well-marked and also off limits (habitats and shellfish reserves, marine gardens, etc.)
  5. Several species of seals and sea lions use the offshore rocks where crabs can be found – you don’t want to tempt them with bait they’d normally eat (fish and fish bits). Instead, use raw turkey and chicken – necks and legs are great.
  6. The best time to catch crabs is when the currents are weakest – between the flood and ebb currents (also called slack tides).
  7. Remember your catch limit. 12 male crabs with a minimum size (5 ¾” ; across the back  – NOT including the spines – or wider; when measuring make sure you measure in a straight line across the back immediately in front of, but NOT including the last points). Female crabs and crabs smaller than 5 ¾ inches must be thrown back.dungeness crab male female photo differences
  8. Stay away from boats. They are noisy and they leave oil residue behind.
  9. Mark your pots and set them far enough apart so that you aren’t competing with other people’s gear.
  10. How to identify a Dungeness Crab: white tipped claws, ten carapace spines (widest at 10th), color reddish-brown to purple.
  11. Please sort through the crabs gently so you do not break the claws of the ones you will toss back.
  12. Consider looking for and catching the aggressive, invasive species, the European green crab, instead, because not only is it delicious, but it is rapidly taking over, eating native shellfish and juvenile Dungeness crabs. [From Oregon.gov: Identifying European Green Crabs Though the name “European green crab” implies that color alone can be used to identify these invaders, this is not the best indicator for identification. In fact, depending on their age, the European green crab can have green, yellow, and even orange coloring. Instead, the telltale sign of a green crab is the 5 spines (pointy triangles) on either side of the crab’s eyestalks. Counting these spines can help distinguish green crabs from juvenile Dungeness crabs, which may also be green.]


Best places to crab:

  • Alsea Bay 
  • Columbia River Estuary 
  • Coos Bay 
  • Coquille Bay
  • Nehalem Bay
  • Netarts Bay
  • Siuslaw Bay  
  • Tillamook Bay
  • Winchester Bay 
  • Yaquina Bay

While you’re at it, thank the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery (it’s one of the few state managed fisheries in the country – yay, Oregon!) Where most other fisheries are regulated under the Federal Fisheries Management Plans (FMP’s), the Dungeness crab fishery in Oregon is managed by the *Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW). Under their watchful eye and good science, they’ve managed to get us to a new season where the crabs are bountiful and not affected by domoic acid. They follow the Size, Sex and Season rules to ensure that the Dungeness fishery is truly sustainable:

  • Size – Only mature male crabs measuring at least 6 ¼ inches across the back of the shell are harvested. Undersized male crabs are returned to the ocean to ensure a healthy ‘breed stock.
  • Sex – ALL female crabs are released unharmed and return to the ocean floor, where they continue the mating cycle to insure healthy stocks and future harvests.
  • Season – The annual harvest begins each year on December 1, when the crabs are hard-shelled, full of meat and in their prime. The season closes on August 14th to minimize handling so that post molt, soft-shelled crabs can fill out’ undisturbed.

We suggest that before you crab, you pay attention to the information below (from Oregon.gov):

Recreational crab harvest: Status map​

Recreational crab harvesting is OPEN from the Columbia River to the California border​. See the link below for biotoxin results data for crab.

Always check the ODFW website for season openings, rules and licensing requirements for recreational harvesting and recreational crab seasons. Call the ODFW Newport Office at 1-800-448-2474.

It is always recommended you eviscerate the crab and discard the “butter” (viscera or guts) prior to cooking. When whole crab are cooked in liquid, domoic acid may leach into the cooking liquid. It is recommended you discard the cooking liquid, and do not use it in other dishes, such as sauces, broths, soups, stews, stocks, roux, dressings, etc. The consumption of crab viscera is not recommended.

Photo Credit: National Park Service