Crabbing Vancouver: Save Money on Dungeness Crab

Here’s how to save money on eating Dungeness crab, by getting it yourself!  A few years ago, I found a place in Sooke and we stayed there for a few nights.  We had high hopes because everyone we talked to said Sooke was a great place for crabbing.  Sooke is located about 30 minutes from Victoria BC.  Since then, I’ve gone crab fishing in Vancouver at Jericho Beach, Boundary Bay, Belcarra, and most recently we got Dungeness crab in Swa Y Lana Pier in Nanaimo and Red Rock crab from Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island.

If you live on the west coast, you’ve probably had Dungeness Crab before.  Dungeness crab is a seafood delicacy and goes for around $20/pound (at least, but sometimes it is on sale for $11/pound).  Each crab is around 1.5 to 2 pounds in weight, so enjoying some fresh crab will set you back at least $35.

In 2018, we spent over 8 hours crabbing and was only able to catch one crab!  But it was delicious (probably the freshest crab I have ever tasted, you can taste the sea!), since then we’ve got a lot more.  It’s a fun family activity.  Dungeness crab is available year round.  We went crabbing off a dock/ pier as we don’t have a boat.

Crabbing off a Pier

Crabbing License BC

Before you learn how to save money on Dungeness crab, you need to get the most essential gear- the Tidal Waters fishing license.  You can apply for one here.

Seniors are 50% off of the adult price ($11 or so for seniors and $22 for adults for an almost year-round license) and children under 16 do not need to pay for their annual fishing license (it is free).

For a one-day fishing license, it is only $5.51.  Get the annual one, in my opinion.

Whoever is operating the gear or is crabbing needs to have a license.  If you are caught without a license, you will get fined a hefty fine (like thousands of dollars).

So print out your license and have it on hand when you go crabbing on Vancouver Island or crab fishing in Vancouver.

Crabbing Vancouver 101

There are some major rules and if you get caught disobeying the rules, you will get fined thousands of dollars.  Also, it’s not nice to disobey the rules because the rules are there to ensure that crabs will continue to be sustainable.  These rules are applicable for crab harvested in Canada/ British Columbia.

The rules are:

  • No female crabs (these are indicated by a rounder shape on their underbelly that looks like a beehive).  Female crabs can hatch 20,000-80,000 eggs in the lifetime.  This is what male crabs’ underbelly looks like:

Crab Fishing Vancouver

  • No undersized crabs.  The minimum size Dungeness crab you can take with you are 165mm, or 6.5″ from one end of the shell to the other end.  Getting a crab caliper is important to make sure you are measuring your crab correctly.

Crab Caliper BC

  • You are only allowed to crab fish 4 crabs a day and can only have in possession, twice the number of allowable limit of crab per day (so 8 crabs on hand)
  • Each person can only set out two traps 
  • You cannot smash the crab- it has to be transported intact.  The best way is to wrap it in newspaper or paper towel. Putting it in a bucket of water can cause it to die faster but this is probably easier transportation if you’re putting them in your car.

Our Crabbing Gear: A Ring Trap

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Crab Fishing Vancouver: Gear

Here are the essential gear you need for crab fishing.

  • A crab caliper to measure the size of the crab to make sure it is the right size (in BC it is 6.5″ from edge to edge of the crab shell for Dungeness), this was around $4-6.  
  • A ring crab net, you can also get them from Canadian Tire too.

Crabbing Vancouver Guide

  • A bait bag (the seals can get into many of the crab nets and grab your bait)- this was $6.  We zip strapped it to the crab net.
  • Or alternately, a crab pot if you are crabbing from a boat and further into the ocean.  For these, you leave them for at least 1-2 hours before you check on them.
  • Bait- What’s the best crab bait for Dungeness?  We used salmon heads, chicken drumsticks, chicken necks, some chicken flavoured hot dogs.  Herring also works well (I suppose it is extra smelly and attractive for crabs) and chicken backs.  Salmon head works the best but seals like to eat them and wreck your crab trap.
  • Tongs!  These were a huge help since I basically shrieked each time the crab moved.  Some expert crabbers can grab the backside with their hands to avoid being pinched by the pincers.
  • A bucket to hold the crab(s) in.

The Best Time to Go Crabbing in Vancouver

What’s the best time to go crabbing in Vancouver?

Crabs are mating in July so there are better chances for more crab haul in the summer, even though crab fishing in Vancouver can be done year round.

We chatted with a few locals and asked what their crabbing tips were.

Most people followed the recommendations to go 1-2 hours before high tide (there are two high tides in the day) as the waves are getting bigger and bigger and thus draws the crab towards the shore.

During high tide is also a good time to crab and also maybe an hour past high tide.  You can check your local tide table here (Canadian website).

Some people said it didn’t matter what time the tide was.  So I’m still not sure what is best, but we did notice much more crabbing enthusiasts during the 1-2 hours before high tide.

How to Go Crab Fishing

Locations for crabbing in Vancouver:

  • Jericho Beach pier
  • Belcarra
  • Boundary Bay (but you have to wade through water for this)
  • Barnett Marine Park
  • Cates Park
  • Ambleside Pier
  • White Rock Pier

Locations for crabbing on Vancouver Island

  • Sooke
  • Victoria, BC
  • Swa Y Lana Pier in downtown Nanaimo
  • Fanny Bay

Basically you crab your bucket, your tongs, your crab caliper, and your crab net and head on down to a pier at a good time (for example, 1-2 hours before high tide).

You can even bring a chair to sit on.

Then you put your crab bait into your trap, and throw the trap(s) in as far as you can (but first time the string to the dock).

I recommend getting two ring traps so you have maximum potential of getting Dungeness crab.

Wait about 10-15 minutes (I set my timer for 11 minutes) and pull the trap up.

The crabs just walk through the ring traps so there’s no point waiting longer.

As you pull the trap up, throw back any crab that are obviously too small and throw back any female crab, and grab the ones for inspection with your tongs.

Use your crab caliper to make sure your Dungeness crab is more than 6.5″ wide.

If so, congratulations!  Put your crab in your bucket for other crab enthusiasts at the Casino of the Sea to admire.

Crabbing Vancouver Island: How to Eat Crab

Dungeness Crab Yummy!

Here are some instructions on how to cook and clean your crab properly.

Basically just having fresh boiled crab (until the crab turns pink/ orange) is fine, you don’t have to cook it for very long.

Be careful when eating the crab tomalley, or the Dungeness crab hepatopancreas (the green stuff on the inside of the main shell, which I used to think was the brains) as it can be toxic.  There is guidance on how much to ingest in a week.

You can get a rash from eating too much of it.

I shared probably about 9 crabs in the span of 5 days and ate about 2 shells, and I had a bit of a skin rash from it.

The Casino of the Sea

Crabbing in Vancouver Island and crab fishing in Vancouver is fun.

It’s like going to the casino of the sea, except the price you pay is just time.

It’s addictive and you get a bit obsessed with checking and pulling up the lines more frequently than recommended (which is 10-15minutes).

Hope you enjoyed this post on how to save money on Dungeness crab.

Good luck with crabbing in Vancouver!

Readers, have you ever tried crabbing or fishing before?  

What’s the best crab bait for Dungeness crab that has worked for you?

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26 thoughts on “Crabbing Vancouver: Save Money on Dungeness Crab”

  1. Unique post and pretty pictures GYM. I love crab, but haven’t had it in a long time. The one you caught is a handsome specimen. Almost to nice to eat. When I come over for the million dollar celebration party can we have crab? Tom

    Reply
    • @Tom- Tell Cindy/ Mrs. DD to cook you some crab! He was delicious, very fresh, even just pan fried. Haha, sure, we can buy I will have to fish for it so it might take a while to catch one.

      Reply
  2. I’ve gone crabbing a few times over here outside of SF and even once went without a license…eekk!! And that one time we went without a license is when we caught the most crabs(all dungeness) and luckily we snuck away with four of them. We went ahead and boiled them that night and enjoyed a nice dinner.
    All the other times we had a license, we came away empty handed. =(
    In terms of bait, yes salmon fish heads are great and also chicken bones are good bait for dungeness crabs.

    Reply
    • @Kris- KRIS!! Naughty boy!! I was so scared of the people catching us I wouldn’t dare go without a license. Is the penalty harsh in SF? FOUR crabs that’s awesome. We will definitely try again, need to get our equipment + license’s worth. Chicken bones- got it, will try that next time.

      Reply
  3. Oh my god, my mom and dad use to just skip to the beach in SF and go crab hunting at 1AM. Lol! This is as Asian as it gets I love it. Chicken hot dog is a bit of a shocker. Are you aware if you can do the same with lobster? Lobster is the only seafood (besides sashimi) that I eat. Isn’t crab a ridiculous amount of work?

    Reply
    • @Lily- Haha, did they go at 1AM for high tide or was it to avoid being caught crab fishing without a license? You mean catch lobster? No, that would be awesome! I should look into that. I like lobster more than crab. Don’t you find crab and lobster the same amount of work? Or do you just eat lobster tail?

      Reply
  4. We have friends who go crabbing in Annapolis and he was just explaining how they do it. In their case, they use chicken necks (so nothing you’d be eating anyway really) and we’re allowed to keep anything 5.5″ without the need for a license (at least when you fish off your own dock).

    Reply
    • @Jim Wang- Wow that’s great that you don’t need a license in Annapolis. Yeah, the crab caliper has different sizes according to the regulations- in Oregon I think the minimum crab size was 5.5″ as well. I’m def. going to try chicken neck or chicken or some sort next time. Maybe let it rot in the sun a bit so it’s extra smelly to attract the crab haha.

      Reply
  5. Love this post! You’re a true Vancouverite, GYM. I grew up crabbing with my dad and uncle. They’d go to Ambleside in West Vancouver and would catch the odd crab. Too bad there’s not much to catch locally anymore.

    Ha ha about your analogy of crabbing being like blogging. I haven’t launched yet, but I already know I’ll be one of those obsessive traffic checkers!

    Reply
    • @esbFI- Haha, Obviously I wasn’t a true Vancouverite until recently!! I heard Jericho is okay? I’ll have to look and research some more. Looking forward to seeing your launch!

      Reply
  6. Huh? Where do you buy your dungeness crab? They are about $7-9/pound here in Portland. $20/pound would be in a restaurant. At that price, it’s way cheaper to buy than go crabbing. The Asian seafood store is the best place to buy these. 🙂
    I went crabbing once, probably 20 years ago. We rented a small boat and puttered around. It was fun. I think we caught 3 crabs.

    Reply
    • @Joe- The $20/lb was for if they cook it for you. I just checked and it’s $10.99/lb here at the fish market. We probably should have bought it ourselves instead of spending 8 hours catching one haha. Nice you caught 3 crabs on your first attempt at crabbing! I think it’s a fun family activity, we will definitely be going annually at least.

      Reply
  7. GYM, that’s so cool and exciting you caught a crab. Since you got the one-year long license, I’m sure you folks will catch more soon.

    I just got a fishing license for this year, inspired by Steve (of Pursuing Retirement) who went for salmon fishing earlier. It will be a fun summer.

    Reply
    • @Helen- Awe cool! Looking forward to hearing what you catch! Blogging is awesome that way since we help inspire each other to try new things 🙂

      Reply
  8. Hey GYM!

    This crabbing trip sounds like a fun day! We’ve never been crabbing or fishing but would like to at least go fishing one day. It must feel so rewarding to catch something. Funny enough, in the summertime, hundreds of fiddler crabs come to our community in South Florida, but crabbing is prohibited and you can get a hefty fine if you get caught. They’re so funny-looking like a blue-ish and orange shade. Sometimes there are so many on the road it’s hard to drive by trying not to hurt them. The funniest thing is when they fall into the pool and we have to fish them out with the pool skimmer to rescue them; they fight back with the claw and get all crabby. LOL.

    Reply
    • @Lily- Cute! I just googled the picture, I remember seeing them and thinking they are so cute! One claw so much bigger than the other! They look so cute I can see why it is illegal to catch them and eat them.

      Reply
  9. I wanted to hear all about crabbing! I love eating crabs! This is something I’ve never done (and will admit, may lack the patience for…can I multitask and also blog or crochet or something? I feel the need to always try and have a tangible result, lol).

    We fished a fair amount as kids with my grandparents. Didn’t get anything too fancy…I remember catching a lot of perch, which, are super fun to reel in! They pull and play so hard on your line…you think you are pulling in a whopper! Nope, likely some little guy you have to throw back, lol.

    Exciting experience!

    Reply
    • @Mrs. DS- I think you can totally multitask but you will need to hotspot your laptop or something hah 🙂 But you can definitely crochet while crabbing. Hey that can be a new blog name ‘crochetandcrabbing.com’ haha. I have never caught an actual fish so that might be on the activity list soon, sounds like a fun outdoorsy childhood experience you had.

      Reply
  10. I was so eager to learn all about crabbing! I’m a huge fan of eating crabs, but I’ve never tried my hand at catching them myself. I’ll confess, I might lack the patience for it. Can I turn it into a multitasking activity, like blogging or crocheting? I always feel the need to have something tangible as a result, lol.

    In my childhood, we did quite a bit of fishing with my grandparents. While we didn’t catch anything too fancy, I distinctly remember reeling in a lot of perch. They’re a blast to catch! They tug and play so vigorously on your line that you’re convinced you’ve got a whopper. Only to find out it’s a little guy you have to throw back, lol. Such an exciting experience!

    Reply

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