While the natural vistas of the Sunshine Coast are a leading reason why people come to visit our stretch of British Columbia, it’s easy to forget that there’s more to its scenery than what lays above the tide line. Why not take your tourist experience underwater?
Freediving for crab on BC’s Sunshine Coast is one of the most unusual and rewarding experiences you can have as a visitor or newcomer, as long as you have the ability and experience to be able to freedive safely and confidently.
Considering the richness of marine life and relative safety of our waters, it’s no surprise that the Sunshine Coast is a leading diving destination for people in the know. It’s even said that the famous underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, called British Columbia’s coastal waters the best place for cold-water diving in the world.
But there’s no reason to limit yourself to just exploring when you could be getting a meal out of your dive. The beauty, freedom, and uniqueness of freediving for crab on the Sunshine Coast makes it a singular tourist experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else. There’s absolutely nothing like harvesting your own dinner from nature for free.
Keep reading to learn about our underwater ecosystem, coastal water conditions, how to find a local crab spot, BC fishing regulations, and how to check for shellfish closures — as well as a few local crab shops, just in case!
What to Expect From Sunshine Coast’s Coastal Waters
West Coast Marine Life
The West Coast is a rich wilderness teeming with varied marine life, ranging from fascinating underwater creatures to living glass coral reefs. Playful seals, startling wolf eels, colourful sea urchins, mysterious octopuses, and monster-headed lingcod are only a few highlights that you could see in a single freediving trip.
When you’re freediving on the Sunshine Coast, keep your eyes out for these aquatic highlights:
- Over 37 species of BC rockfish, especially around Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs)
- Lingcod, unique to the west coast of North America
- Ruby octopuses, the most common shallow water octopus on the West Coast
- Wolf eels, one of five species of endangered wolf fish
- Rare northern abalone (strictly off-limits for harvesting)
- Seals, otters, and even the occasional porpoise
As well, unlike popular warm water diving spots, the West Coast is one of the safest places to freedive. There are no aggressive species of sharks or instantaneously fatal jellyfish. However, it’s still beneficial to exercise caution around potentially dangerous marine life when freediving.
Freedivers should avoid these aquatic creatures:
- Stinging red jellyfish
- Territorial sea lions
- Dogfish and other sharks
- Orcas and other whales
During most of the year, water temperature across the majority of the Sunshine Coast is cold compared to other popular diving locations, though it varies depending on the area you’re in and your oceanic depth. The area of Halfmoon Bay is relatively typical of its temperature, ranging from a minimum of 7 to 10°C in February and peaking at 14 to 17°C in August.
Visibility in the water tends to be best during the winter months, when there are fewer algal blooms and less particulate. Water visibility is best at high tide, though it’s easiest to harvest crab during low tide.
It’s easiest to freedive during slack tide, which are the two short periods between tidal changes every day. Aim to dive at the peak of high tide or low tide. The time slack tides occur changes throughout the year, so check the tide charts of your location online or use an ocean navigation app, such as Navionics.
Freediving with an open cell wetsuit is the norm for freedivers on the West Coast. Open cell wetsuits differ from typical surfing and diving wetsuits because they do not have nylon lining the inside. The open cells of the rubber suits stick to the skin, trapping air between the suit and your body, which insulates the freediver in colder water.
It’s necessary to lubricate your body with wetsuit lubricant to slide yourself into an open cell wetsuit. You can also make your own wetsuit lubricant using a ratio of 3 cups of warm water to 4 tbsp hair conditioner. Most freedivers do not wear clothing underneath their wetsuits.
How to Find a Crab Spot On The Sunshine Coast
Finding a crab spot can be a tricky thing, especially if you’re visiting a new area for the first time. If you have limited time on the Sunshine Coast, I would recommend introducing yourself to fishermen, crabbers, and locals at fishing stores, fishing piers, and on docks.
When you’re speaking with people, tell them that you’re a visitor and you’d really appreciate a few tips on popular crabbing spots. Most Sunshine Coasters will be happy to share a local crabbing spot with you.
If you’re feeling a little shy, you can also research Google Maps and fishing forums online to find crab spots on the Sunshine Coast. When in doubt, remember that you’re looking for sandy or pebbly bottomed areas with shallow depths and plenty of hiding spaces like eel grass, boulders, and kelp. Beaches, coves, and piers are always great places to start looking!
For more help on how to find a crab spot, check out my crab harvesting breakdown here.
BC Fishing Regulations and Shellfish Closures
BC has strict fishing regulations and shellfish closures that may limit the areas that you can safely and legally harvest crab. You can read the full list of BC crab fishing regulations here.
The most important regulations to know about crab fishing in BC:
- A valid BC fishing license is required to harvest any shellfish, including crabs
- Some areas are closed to crab fishing, so check BC shellfish closures before you freedive
- It’s illegal to have harvested shelled crabs in your possession; all crabs must be whole unless you’re in your residence or preparing for immediate consumption
- The daily harvest limit for Dungenness crab and Red Rock crab is four on the South Coast and six on the North Coast for each valid fishing license
- The possession limit is twice the daily harvest limit
- You can only keep crabs that are larger than the minimum capture size:
- Dungeness crab must measure at least 165 millimeters in width
- Red Rock crab must measure at least 115 millimeters in width
- All female Dungeness crab and female Red Rock crab must be released immediately
Local Crab Shops On The Sunshine Coast
Of course, there are no guarantees when it comes to harvesting wild food from nature. If you aren’t able to harvest crab successfully, there are plenty of places where you can buy a freshly caught local crab on the Sunshine Coast.
Sechelt – Sechelt Fish Market (5688 Cowrie Street)
Powell River – Powell River Seafood Company (5824 Ash Avenue)
Freediving is an extreme sport that can be very dangerous. Please exercise caution when freediving in a new area, always freedive with a trained freediving partner, and follow safe freediving practices at all times. This guide is intended for experienced freedivers only.
About the Author:
Arielle Quan is a passionate urban homesteader and female hunter located on the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver in British Columbia. She loves creating Asian-inspired wild game recipes and writing about foraging, hunting, fermenting, and preserving. When she’s not exploring all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer, she’s working as a writer and and attempting to play the banjo. You can find her at The Homesteading Huntress website, which she updates with fresh content every week.