North beach crab fishery may by closed

  • Jun. 18, 2003 1:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret. Old Massett Village Council is prepared to shut down the busy recreational crab fishery on North Beach if Fisheries and Oceans Canada doesn’t take action, says chief councillor Ron Brown Jr.
Mr. Brown said he has requested a meeting with Fisheries officials to discuss the situation, but so far the two sides have not been able to get together.
“We told them to send the boss over to talk to us,” he said. “We’re willing to listen to what they have to say.”
Old Massett is prepared to take action as soon as this week if Fisheries officials don’t act, Mr. Brown said.
Old Massett has several concerns about the recreational Dungeness crab fishery, which has grown steadily in recent years. Low tides in summer can attract 200 to 300 people to the beaches along the north shore of Graham Island to catch crabs, Mr. Brown said.
Old Massett’s concerns about the growing fishery include vehicles constantly driving up and down the North Beach, interference with the razor clam fishery, pollution from vehicles which are swept out into the ocean (this can happen several times a year), and people and vehicles trampling over young halibut and crab larvae habitat, Mr. Brown said. Lack of monitoring and the overharvesting of crabs is also a concern.
“There are people who go out with a 30 or 40 litre garbage can and fill it up,” Mr. Brown said. “Some people are just plain greedy.”
Old Massett would like to see North Beach closed to crabbing, with South Beach and Agate Beach remaining open, he said.
He also said that Fisheries officials should do more monitoring in order to nab people who are taking more than their limit of crabs, or taking undersized crabs. The limit here is six crabs a day, with a possession limit of 12. Crabs must be at least 165 mm wide.
(According to one Fisheries official, it is extremely important to measure the crabs right after they are caught, and to release undersized ones as soon as possible.)
Meanwhile, several islanders have questioned the statement made last week by Fisheries area chief of resource management David Einarson that the crabs are not actually mating when they are found stuck together or “coupled” in the shallow water, where the recreational fishers usually catch them.
The Observer consulted a couple of experts in an attempt to clarify what the coupled crabs are actually doing. We spoke to Gwaii Haanas marine ecologist Dr. Norm Sloan and Jim Boutillier, section head of invertebrates at the Pacific Biological Station. The first thing we learned is that crab reproduction is quite complicated.
In the first phase, the larger male crab attaches onto a female crab and carries her around for a period of five to seven days. He does this because actual mating can only occur after the female molts and her new shell is still soft. Once the male and female mate, he continues to carry her around for some time.
This means that when you catch a male-female pair, they are either in a pre-mating phase, or a post-mating phase. You can tell which phase they are in by the condition of the female crab’s shell. If it is still hard, the couple have not mated yet. If it is paper-thin and soft, the crabs have recently mated.
So what happens if you pull a male crab off a hard-shell female crab? According to Dr. Sloan, the female crab would likely be grabbed by another male crab. And according to Mr. Boutillier, even if the female is unable to attract another male, she may have stored sperm from a previous mating that she can use again.
(Another facet of the crab reproductive cycle is that the eggs are not actually fertilized at the time of mating. The female stores the sperm package and uses it later. She carries the eggs under her abdomen until they hatch into their first larval stage.)
Actual Dungeness crab copulation takes one and a half to three hours, and neither Dr. Sloan nor Mr. Boutillier had any information about whether it is more likely to take place in deep water or shallow water.