Crabbing, Clamming & Fishing
Whether you favor Dungeness crab, fresh-caught salmon, mussels or oysters, Waterside communities are home to a bounty of seafood that is exciting to catch and tasty to eat.
Regulations for each species are complex and can change with conditions, so check with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife or Fisheries and Oceans Canada before harvesting.
Here’s a quick primer on the popular fishing and shellfish harvesting activities in our area.
In northwest Washington and the lower mainland of B.C., recreational crabbers are looking to harvest Dungeness and red rock crab. All you need to get started is a fishing license with a crab endorsement, a baited crab pot and a place to fish. Everyone who fishes for crab in Puget Sound must carry and complete catch record cards to account for all Dungeness crab they catch.
Many people simply tie their traps to the end of the local fishing pier, leave them submerged for a few hours and haul them up in time for dinner.
In Washington, the summer crab season opens at different times in different areas, and is subject to change. To find out when the crab season opens where you are, visit wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab. The summer season runs through Labor Day in Washington, and the winter season opens the next day.
In Canada, crabbing is permitted year-round with localized closures around ferry terminals and sensitive habitats. In both jurisdictions, it’s illegal to keep female crabs, which have a shorter, wider abdominal flap.
Clams, Mussels and Oysters
Take a stroll on the beach and see what you can find – manila clams, butter clams, native littlenecks, mussels and world-class Pacific and Olympia oysters – all but the mussels and oysters require a little digging, but that’s half the fun.
Many people consider oysters to be a delicacy, but you may not know that they are also highly nutritious: rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals such as iron, cobalt, manganese and copper. During the height of summer, oysters become less meaty and flavorful because they devote more of their energy to reproduction.
While most oysters that wind up on a plate are commercially harvested on oyster farms, recreational harvesting is popular throughout Washington. State regulations require all recreationally harvested oysters to be shucked on the beach so the next generation of oysters can reuse the empty shells.
For the same reasons they are so flavorful, clams, mussels and oysters are also susceptible to toxins: as bottom feeders, they concentrate the elements and compounds that are passed through each step of the food chain. Because of this, it is important to pay attention to beach closures to avoid harvesting contaminated shellfish. Shellfish harvesting is prohibited on the mainland coast of B.C. from Vancouver south to the American border. Check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, wdfw.wa.gov, for beach closures in Washington.
The Pacific Northwest is famous for its salmon. Recreational salmon fishing is incredibly popular in Washington and British Columbia. Chinook, coho, chum, pink and sockeye are the most commonly fished salmon species. Steelhead, bull trout and coastal cutthroat trout are also “Salmonids” native to the area.
In Washington Marine Area 7, which encompasses the San Juan Islands and the mainland coast from Mount Vernon to Point Roberts, the best times to fish for Chinook are in February and March and again in late July and early August. Coho can be caught in September and October, while pinks (or “humpys”) can be caught in August and September, but only on years that end in an odd number.
In addition to salmon, lingcod and rockfish are popular fisheries in the coastal waters of B.C. Check the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website, pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca, to find limits and season dates.
Of course, many other types of fish can be caught in the area, and many different ways to catch them. You can go sport fishing for halibut and tuna from a chartered motorboat, or see what you can catch casting from the local fishing pier. La Conner, Oak Harbor, Anacortes, Bellingham, Blaine and Gooseberry Point west of Bellingham all have public fishing/crabbing piers. North of the border, you can find piers in White Rock and along the south arm of the Fraser River in Richmond, Steveston and Ladner.
As with crabbing, a great place to get started fishing is the local tackle shop.
Since governments are charged with regulating the fisheries, government websites are the best source to start with for all things fishing, crabbing and shellfish harvesting.
Where to get a fishing license in Washington:
License information for B.C.:
When to fish for what in Washington:
Public piers and docks for fishing and crabbing:
Regulations by area for coastal areas around Vancouver: