Sustaining the Harvest for Dungeness Crab

Stewardship workers set out on a boat in the Central Coast to monitor crab populations.

Since the 1990s, Central Coast Nations’ food fishers have observed accelerating declining numbers for Dungeness crab. Commercial fishing had increased in the area and, following the expansion of GPS tools, recreational fishers started navigating the Central Coast’s smaller bays and inlets. According to traditional knowledge in the area, declines often follow specific fishing events, after which the legal male crab population is slow to recover.

What Does this Look Like?

From 2017 to 2021, Central Coast Nations engaged with DFO in a collaborative management process to improve access for Dungeness crab for food fisheries, which resulted in closing 17 sites to recreational and commercial crab fishing to allow crab populations to rebound in important and accessible fishing areas for Central Coast Nations.

The collaborative management process, initially developed as a pilot project, is now a part of the broader Coastal First Nations’ Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement—a landmark framework for collaborative governance in fisheries between North and Central Coast First Nations and DFO.

What’s Next?

Sustaining sufficient First Nations food fisher access to crab is a multi-year effort, involving initial surveys and research, ongoing data collection, as well as enforcing and monitoring any resulting closures. It will take multiple years to demonstrate changes in crab population abundance.

Just over a year into the process, it’s still too early to tell whether these closures will meet Nation-led objectives of improving crab abundance and food fishery access to crab. Accordingly, the Nations have implemented a monitoring and evaluation strategy to assess whether the closures are working, since the long-term goal is to ensure sufficient food fisher access year-round at culturally and historically important crab fishing sites, using a target catch rate of 7.5 legal male crab per trap.

Why Does this Matter?

Ensuring sufficient crab for food fishers is just one objective within our Nations’ broader goal of being equal decision makers in all aspects of fisheries management across the Central Coast. Through holistic, Nation-led management, we are working to ensure healthy marine ecosystems and populations for all future generations.

A close picture of a Dungeness crab, taken during research and monitoring efforts in Wuikinuxv territory.

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