By the time I moved to a coastal area, the whole idea of recreational crabs and whether or not I needed a crab fishing license was a foreign word. But I soon found out that a lot of people enjoyed hand feeding these crustaceans, and now I know why I often see people with crab strings and diving nets standing on coastal docks, piers, and bridges, some of them locals and some of them visitors.
My elderly mother-in-law and my young grandchildren alike loved to sit on a dock and haul in a crab that clung to their bait lines. The only difference was that my mother-in-law liked to eat crabs and the kids didn’t. I didn’t need a crab fishing license or a saltwater fishing license to do this in Virginia, where I live.
In fact, most of my crabs are caught in pots, and in Virginia anyone can have two recreational crab pots per person without having to purchase a special fishing license. In some states, your saltwater recreational fishing license gives you coverage for certain crab activities. Whether or not you need a separate crab fishing license depends on the laws in your state and the type and method of crab fishing you use.
I encourage you to go to the government agency website where you will be fishing for crab and look for recreational crab fishing regulations. That said, there are a few things to consider here.
Observe the regulations by species. It’s all about blue crabs where I live, but California has dungeness crabs and different types of rock crabs. Regulations and seasons vary depending on the species. The rules may also differ with regard to hard crabs, soft crabs (which have just molted) and peelers (which are about to molt).
Where can you get crabs?
In general, crab fishing rules apply to all tidal waters. However, there may be some places where a government agency may prohibit or advise against crab fishing (e.g., a designated sanctuary) (possibly for water quality reasons).
How are you?
The rules may differ depending on the equipment and method. Recreational fishing for crabs is done by hand feed (using a weighted and impaled bait such as fish heads and chicken necks on a line that is lowered into the water by hand), hand nets or diving nets (with a long net). using the net to scoop swimming crabs) and by setting up crab pots (which are baited and catch multiple crabs at once). In some locations, divers can handpick crabs.
How many can you keep
With or without a license, a recreational crabber may only catch crabs for personal use. There is a daily limit to the number you can catch. In Virginia, for example, that’s a bushel of hard crabs and two dozen peelers. There are ten Dungeness crabs in California.
What size crabs are allowed?
This varies by state and species, and maybe even depending on the season. In some places, crab pots are required to have cull rings sized to allow crabs to escape below the legal minimum. If undersized crabs are caught in a pot or otherwise, they must be released.
What is the season
In some locations, certain species of crabs can be caught recreationally throughout the year. This applies to rock crabs in California, for example. In other cases, the season usually runs from spring to autumn, although the specific opening and closing dates can change each year.
You may want to purchase a recreational crab fishing license if you plan to use more than a few crab pots at a time. State regulations also require you to mark and / or identify your pots. Some states that catch blue crabs require recreational crab pots to have a turtle elimination device (TED) at each entrance. These rectangular plastic or metal accessories prevent diamond turtles from getting into a crab pot and drowning. While not required, consider placing TEDs for the turtles on crab pots.