Oregon Coast Crabbing 101

a bucket full of Dungeness Crab

Crabbing season has a delayed opening this year beginning Dec. 16—check with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the latest updates.

 

Yum. Dungeness Crab! 

Imagine the rhythmic lull of the ocean waves, the briny scent of the sea breeze, and the thrill of the catch. Here in Oregon, we are blessed with an abundance of succulent, juicy crab just waiting to be boiled, then drenched in butter. There’s a reason Newport was dubbed “The Dungeness Crab Capital of the World.” This is the season to join in on the fun and catch your own dinner!

A Quick Crab Education

Dungeness, red rock and Pacific rock crabs are the three species most common to our coast, and all are delicious!

A Dungeness Crab in a net on a pier

Dungeness crabs are easily identified by their white-tipped claws and reddish-brown color. Mature Dungeness crabs are typically 6-7 inches and can reach up to 10 inches. They’re common throughout the muddy areas in the shallowest parts of lower estuaries all the way to depths of 2,000 feet. 

Red rock crab underwater on a rock

Red rock crabs will have black-tipped claws and are typically a deep brick red. As their name implies, they prefer harder habitats like rocks. 

The Pacific rock crab lives in similar habitats, but are more commonly found in the nearshore ocean. They’re easily discerned from red rock crabs by their spotted undersides, brown/purple color and hairier legs. 

Bay Street pier sign with someone walking two dogs in Newport, Oregon

Best Crabbing on the Oregon Coast

Just a few miles away from Hallmark Resort Newport lies Siletz, Yaquina and Alsea Bays, three of the best crabbing bays on the Oregon Coast. Crabbing is open in estuaries (i.e., bays), beaches, tide pools, piers and jetties year-round, but crabbing for Dungeness crab is closed from October 16 through November 30. 

The Port of Newport public fishing pier in Newport, Oregon

 

The South Beach State Park Pier and the Historic Bayfront area are renowned for their excellent crabbing opportunities. These spots promise a fruitful catch but also provide a quintessential Newport experience. Want a perfect view of the Yaquina Bay Bridge? Grab a beer at Rogue Brewing and cast your crab trap off the Newport Municipal Crabbing Pier. 

What to Know: 

To ensure a healthy crab ecosystem in our Pacific Northwest, here are some of the regulations:

  • Keep only male crabs to ensure a sustainable ecosystem for our crabbing industry – Here’s how to tell the difference:

Male and female crab indicators

  • All male crabs must be 5 ¾ inches across the back (not including the spines) or wider.
  • Crabbers should not harvest any more than 12 male Dungeness crabs that measure 6 inches or more. 
  • Releasing “soft shell” crab is strongly recommended. They’re newly molted and are essentially a small crab in a big crab’s body. 

a boy holding up a Dungeness crab in Newport, Oregon

Let’s Go Crabbing!

Crabbing is quite easy. Very little gear is required and equipment is available at Stabi Dave’s Bait and Tackle or private fishing charters if you want to get out in the water. While boat crabbing may increase your likelihood of success, dockside crabbing is more accessible and cost-effective. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

Crabbing pots piled up in Newport, Oregon

Must-Haves for Crabbing:

  • Shellfish license

In Oregon, anyone 12 and up requires a license to harvest shellfish. Licenses are available for a single day or a full year and can be purchased online.

  • Crab measuring device

Get these from any crabbing rental outfit buy your own for under $10. It’s usually made from a durable plastic that’s great for tossing into your tackle box or back pocket. 

  • Pots or rings

A crabber should use no more than 3 pieces of crab gear, either pots and/or rings. Wondering whether to use pots or rings? It’s recommended to use a combination of both to maximize your chances. Check all the lines on your crab pots or rings for kinks or knots to ensure they are durable and will allow gear to work correctly.

For pots, allow them to sit undisturbed for about an hour before you pull them in to check the catch. If you use rings, allow them to sit for 10 minutes (or more) before you check them. The key is to pull them consistently to allow your basket shape to catch all crabs in your trap. 

  • Buoys

Make sure all your buoys are well-marked so you can tell which pots are yours. 

  • Cooler

Store legal-size “keeper” crabs in a cooler with ice. Crabs will stay fresh when stored in a cooler full of ice up to 48 hours—keep them out of standing water and replace the melted ice.

  • Bait / Bait Holders

Whether it’s turkey, chicken, clams, fish carcasses, or any other meat scraps, fresh bait is best. 

One of the best baits is mink, with the smell of the carcass attracting crabs. As long as the bait stays in the pot or ring you’ll be fine! Use a bait bag to avoid the local seals and sea lions stealing your bait. 

  • Gloves (to help pull up wet ropes and sort crabs), and plenty of warm and waterproof layers of clothing for Oregon’s mercurial weather. 

A person holding a red rock crab with a glove

Sorting Your Crabs

There’s nothing more delightful than pulling up your pot or ring to see it overflowing with crabs! Try to keep the crabs at ease by moving carefully. A quick shake of the pot is often more effective than reaching directly for them so you don’t get pinched. Find the females and smaller crabs first and toss them back into the water. The larger males should be measured to ensure they meet regulations and then stored. Have fun! 

Or, You Can Just Visit Georgie’s for your Dungeness Crab Fix! 

An array of Georgie’s appetizers: Dungeness crab fondue, crab cakes and steamer clams

 

If your Newport crab hunt didn’t go to plan, or you just couldn’t wait to satisfy that seafood craving, Georgie’s has you covered! With a wide variety of fresh crab dishes like seafood fondue, crab cakes, and Fisherman stew, you can taste just why Newport is a seafood lover’s dream. Book your crabbing extravaganza today!