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.
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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:
- 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.
- 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.
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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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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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