The Dungeness crab is an important species on the West Coast, where it thrives in chilly Pacific Ocean waters. This species is a major driver for the fishing economies in California, Oregon, and Washington.
These crustaceans have eight walking legs and two claws and prefer sandy bottom habitats in the intertidal zones to a depth of approximately 750 feet.
Dungeness crab have been harvested commercially on the West Coast since the mid-1800s when San Francisco fishermen began the fishery. For more than 100 years, the fishery has been regulated by size, sex, and season in order to preserve this important resource.
The commercial Dungeness crab season typically begins in early December and continues through the spring. Recreational crabbing is a popular, year-round activity on the Oregon Coast.
Just make sure you’re aware of the regulations next time you head to the beach or the docks. Knowing how to play will help ensure this animal continues to provide a delicious food source and an important economic opportunity for coastal communities in the region.
Many coastal bait and tackle shops along the coast will help you get set up for an enjoying crabbing experience!
Red Rock Crabs are native, plentiful, have very liberal bag limits, and are great eating. Dungeness crab are be larger and more meaty, but have significantly lower bag limits.
These feisty crabs are deep, brick red. Their large red claws are tipped in black, and their body is a wide fan-shape. They can grow 10-inches across or more. Typical sizes are 7-inches for males and 5-inches for females. The farther north, the darker the shell.
Red Rocks are ‘walking crabs’ where all of the legs look similar. The back legs on some crabs have flippers making them a ‘swimming crabs’ (such as the Eastern blue).
Territory and Habitat
Red Rock Crabs inhabit mid-intertidal waters up to about 260 feet from Alaska to Baja California. They are common to Coos, Yaquina, and Tillamook bays that contain rocky substrates.
Rock crabs prefer rocky areas, pilings, and other structures. They favor larger, salty estuaries, eelgrass, soft-bottom habitats, and shellfish beds.
These crabs are mean and will pinch hard! They prey on hard-shelled clams and oysters–Your fingers are no match to those hard shells. Note: They also have teeth. Consider their defenses as they are a favorite prey for the giant Pacific octopus.
Avoid harvesting in months that don’t have the letter “r” in the name.
Before you go: Call Oregon Dept. of Agriculture shellfish safety info hotline at (800) 448-2474 or visit the ODA shellfish closures web page (http://ODA.direct/ShellfishClosures). This site has updates on several different types of seafoods including crab, clams, mussels, and scallops. It covers are from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border. There are maps, bag limits, closures, and potential warnings, etc.
Catch both Dungeness and Red rock crabs using the same technique.
The crab legs have a lot of meat, like most crabs. Extracting Red rock crab body meat is more challenging because the crab is smaller. There are different cooking techniques that can take advantage of this difference. See the Spruce Eats (https://www.thespruceeats.com/pacific-red-and-rock-crabs-1300653) for ideas.
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College of Forest Ecosystems & Society
Oregon State University Extension - Oregon Sea Grant
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