Crabbing at Belcarra

As part of expanding our access to local food year round, Brian and I have taken up fishing in the last year. Lake fishing, mostly trout so far, but we’re interested in expanding into saltwater – and I’ve got a nascent interest in flyfishing that I might investigate this fall when I accompany Brian on some hunting expeditions (I don’t hunt, but I’m thinking it’s the perfect opportunity for some fishing and photography).

So! In keeping with the get-out-and-learn-new-stuff-about-food theme, we went to Belcarra on Saturday with our friend (who just bought a crab trap) Leung and spent the afternoon on the sunny dock getting nicely toasted (read: burned) while waiting for the crabs to take our bait. In general, I would not recommend Belcarra on a sunny Saturday as the pier is overcrowded – but for a first time it was excellent because 1) they have a park employee and volunteers out there on the weekend to answer all your questions and 2) there are so many people crabbing that you get a real feel for the variety of traps and techniques out there.

While we didn’t catch anything we could keep (all female and/or undersized), I did come away with a lot of confidence for doing more crabbing in the future. If you are interested in heading out for an afternoon of crabbing in the lower mainland, here are some things worth knowing:

  1. By law you must carry a tidal waters fishing licence issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. If you intend to also fish for salmon, you must also purchase the salmon conservation stamp – total cost is $30 for the year.
  2. Crabbing is best done at the turn of the tide, about two hours after the low tide point when the crabs are moving in with the water.
  3. Crabbing may take place from shore, from a pier, or from a boat. If you are working from shore, you will want a lightweight trap that is easy to throw a long distance – I like the half-circle traps in particular and will probably invest in one of those even though they require more tending than the larger traps that are dropped from the pier or a boat. Traps can range from $20 (for the square traps at Army and Navy) upwards to a few hundred for commercial traps. The $20 traps work fine if you’re dropping them off a pier.
  4. Dungeness and Red Rock Crabs are what you’re after in BC, and it is against the law to keep females and those which don’t meet a certain size across the carapace.
  5. Crabs are most often found in bays and estuary zones, so plan your trip accordingly.
  6. If you use fish for bait, seals will eat it – chicken is attractive to crabs without attracting the marine mammals.

As with anything there is lots ot know about trap types and locations – but it turns out that the crabbing itself is really very simple. Bait trap, drop or throw it in the water, wait (15 minutes with the half-circle traps, one hour or longer with the drop traps), pull in and discard whatever you aren’t allowed to keep. You can use tongs or work gloves to minimize risk of being pinched, or simply pick the crab up from its back end so the claws are out front. Also picking it up from the top of its carapace and turning it upside down is another way to avoid claw injuries.

Obviously this is a popular time for outdoor activities, so crabbing anywhere on a weekend is bound to be busy. We’re hoping to take advantage of my Mondays off work, and our willingness to go out in the dismal months of late fall to get some quieter and more productive crab fishing done.

2 Comments on “Crabbing at Belcarra

  1. Didn’t know this was doable at Belcarra! Wow.

    I like the notion of DIY crabbing although (as a vegetarian and squeamish person) I couldn’t do it, myself.

    (Though in earlier days I used to work on a prawn boat, ripping prawns in half and dodging their odd little armoured tooth. I’ve never really developed a taste for seafood though at times I wish I had, when poor and living on an island RIGHT where oysters, clams, crab and fish were readily available. Such sea bounty!!!).

    The fact that you go out there and try it yourself makes it a more meaningful endeavor. I hear you on the burning though. These days anyone fair needs to get all up in the SPF 45 at least, apparently.

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