Community Crab Distribution and Science Program

Some community members have had a visit from Dwayne Goldsmith and Stephanie Spencer. They have been delivering crab, fresh caught on the Pride of Malahat boat.

Dwayne and Stephanie work for the Malahat Environment Department. They are helping to track crab in Saanich Inlet. A perk of this work is that they get to deliver the caught crab to community members at the end of the day!

A Dungeness crab caught during the science crab survey.

Unfortunately, the crab catch is a bit unpredictable. Not every crab in the trap is suitable to keep. Females and undersize crabs get returned to the ocean to keep the population going. Some days the team catches 10 crab to keep, some days only 2. There are a few reasons for the unpredictability. Look out on the inlet on a summer weekend and you will see many floats on the water. Many floats mark the location of a crab traps set by recreational and commercial fishers.  Is overfishing impacting crab availability?  Malahat Environment Department gathers information to answer the question by fishing for crab.

Preparing bait for crab fishing.

Because they want to know about crab from all over the inlet they are not only fishing one ‘good’ spot. The department wants scientific data for many spots all around the inlet. Some spots catch more crab and some are not so good. Fishing ‘bad’ spots seems like a bad fishing strategy but in the long term there will be major benefits. Comparing spots helps the department understand why some spots offer fewer crab. That information can help Malahat make decisions to protect good fishing spots.

Crab inside a trap on the Pride of Malahat waiting to be measured.

Malahat Environment Department puts traps out and soaks them for 24hrs. When they return the next day, they pull up the trap hoping for a good catch. The best catches have 5-10 crab inside but not all those crabs are ‘keepers’. They then get to work gathering scientific data, checking and measuring each crab. The size and sex of crab is important to know. A ‘keeper’ is a male crab that is over the minimum size. Too many small crabs can be a sign of overfishing. A good mix of small and large, males and females indicates a healthy availability of crab. So far there have been both Red Rock Crabs and Dungeness Crabs in the traps.

Catching crab has other benefits for Malahat besides scientific data. Malahat men’s group, and other members, have helped with crab fishing and data collection on the boat. The experience has taught them new skills for catching crab. They gain knowledge about the ocean and Malahat Territory. They build relationships with each other. On the water they not only see crab but seabirds, seals, sea lions and sometimes whales! Time on the water helps everyone strengthen their relationships with the ocean.

Malahat Men’s group fishing for crab on the Pride of Malahat

So far this year the Malahat Environment Department has caught about 50 crab. Many were female or undersize. About 15 crab have been distributed to community members. The numbers are not enough to make scientific conclusions about the crab population yet. The department will be out fishing for more crab this summer and fall. Collecting more data and analyzing the data will provide some answers. Crab catch numbers over the years can show whether the crab availability is changing. The crab program is part of the Salish Sea Initiative (SSI). SSI is a Trans-mountain accommodation measure which continues until 2024.

Next time you see Dwayne and Stephanie or anyone from the Environment Department, give them a wave and ask them how the crab fishing is going! If you want to come aboard the Pride of Malahat for some crab fishing, let them know!

Posted in Environment