Why Dungeness Crab Season is When It Is
Dungeness crab season is the best time of the year for a great many people. It’s not just the crab fisherman that rejoice either. Those who have ever tasted Dungeness crab are happy campers once the season gets underway. While these crabs can only be legally caught during the season, once they are cooked and cleaned, they can be placed in the freezer and will be every bit as tasty 6 or 7 months down the road as when they were cooked. In other words, when frozen they keep well.
The Dungeness crab takes its name from the town of Dungeness in the state of Washington, located on the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula, across the Straits of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, British Columbia. There is also a Dungeness River in the immediate area, and a sand spit that reaches several miles out into the Straits, Dungeness Spit. The nearest large town is Port Angeles.
Dungeness Crab Locations and Seasons
Washington state and the Puget Sound region isn’t the only place where these crabs are found. They are found in the cold waters of the Pacific from the coastlines of Southwest Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. These crabs are also found along the southern coast of Alaska, and all the way out into the Aleutian Islands. Dungeness crab season will vary from place to place, but usually starts sometime around December and runs into early to mid-spring. Summer and fall are not good times to harvest these crabs, or any shellfish for that matter. Another factor for not seeking out these crabs after about mid-spring is they begin molting, a process which can continue throughout the summer. Summertime is also mating time for these crabs, so would be a proper time to leave them undisturbed.
Found in Both Deep and Shallow Waters
Another nice thing about these crabs is that almost anyone who can make it to the coastal waters can catch them. While most of those on the market come from larger crab fisheries, anyone with a small boat, or who doesn’t mind wading in very cold water, or who has access to a crab trap, can catch a few of these crabs. They are often large enough so that a single crab can make a meal for two people, or possibly three. The only caution when preparing them is to make certain you handle them correctly when placing them in the cooking pot. You have to grasp them from behind. They have large and powerful pincers, and they will use them. Those who do fish commercially for these crabs will usually set out several hundred crab pots. These pots will be set out in water that is anywhere from 30 to 300 feet deep. In some coastal areas however, these crabs can be found in fairly shallow water, as long as the water is cold.
As is the case with lobsters, Dungeness crabs are almost always cooked by boiling them live, soon after they are caught. The meat of a dead crab that has not been cooked will spoil very quickly, and if doesn’t take particularly warm weather to make that happen. Once they are cooked, it’s still a good idea to refrigerate the crab if it isn’t going to be eaten right away. If you don’t have a pair of waders, or own your own crab pot, or if you are simply a tourist, the best larger cities to purchase fresh or frozen crabs would be San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. During Dungeness crab season, there are roadside stands or small businesses along the coast where these crabs can be purchased, often cooked and cleaned on the spot.
The meat of the Dungeness crab usually tastes a bit sweeter than that of either the snow crab or the king crab. Once someone has tried eating Dungeness crab, no other type of crab will do.
From all outward appearances, the Dungeness crab will be around for a long, long time. It may be because it is primarily caught in pots and not by trawlers, but this particular type of seafood has shown no signs of being over fished. Since it can only legally be caught in those months when the Dungeness crab season is in effect helps as well. The Monterrey Aquarium, which monitors Pacific fisheries, gives the Dungeness crab a “Best Choice” rating, which means that when you catch and eat one you aren’t eating a threatened or endangered species. Still, the annual harvest along the Pacific Coast is typically in the neighborhood of 40 to 40 million pounds.
The Dungeness crab fishery is an important part of Washington State’s economy. One would thing that it would rate consideration as being named the State shellfish, although there are those who feel the geoduck is more deserving. In any event, the Oregon State Legislature decided some state should honor this crab, and in 2009 they named the Dungeness crab the state crustacean, joining Maryland and Louisiana who so honored the blue crab and the freshwater crayfish, respectively.