Wildlife Fact Sheets

Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab

Dungeness Crab

Metacarcinus magister

  • Life Span
    More than 10 years
  • Habitat
    Sandy or muddy parts of the ocean floor, especially around eelgrass beds
  • Range
    From Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Mexico, but mostly in the Pacific Northwest
  • Preferred Food
    Crustaceans, bivalves, worms and even fish


Dungeness crabs are one of the most popular seafood items in the Pacific Northwest (just call them the Kings in the North!). You can identify Dungeness crabs by their purple-hued shells, which can grow up to 10 inches across.

Dungeness crabs make up a massive fishery that supports communities from California to Alaska—some years the harvest results in up to 54 million pounds of crab! In 2016, the fishery was hit hard by a toxic bloom of Pseudo-nitschia algae, which delayed the Oregon and Washington fishery opening by one month and the Washington fishery by five months. When crabs and other shellfish eat these algae, it causes a buildup of a toxin called domoic acid in their bodies. Although it doesn’t hurt the crab, it can make humans and other marine life very sick.

Did You Know?

Unlike other types of seafood, 99% of the Dungeness crab we buy in the United States is actually from the United States.

Status and Conservation

Although Dungeness crabs are difficult to catch, ocean warming and acidification might make it even more difficult for fishers. Early research shows that ocean acidification could make young Dungeness crabs grow more slowly, or even cause fewer to survive to adulthood. Also, warming waters could result in hypoxic (low oxygen) zones in Dungeness crab habitat, which could lead to large crab die offs. To top it off, ocean acidification may cause Pseudo-nitschia to produce more domoic acid. To best avoid this, humans need to invest in research and learn more about ocean acidification and its potential impacts on our fishery and others.

Fast Facts


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