Hundreds of crab bandits have been illegally swarming a Half Moon Bay beach to poach Dungeness crab out of season. They not only risk a nearly $500 fine, they’re also screwing up the hatching season and threatening the crab population.

We mentioned last weekend a bizarre new phenomenon where people are taking Uber to San Mateo County beaches to illegally poach Dungeness crabs, as a way to evade law enforcement because they don’t have a noticeable vehicle around. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) says most of these scofflaws are from San Francisco or San Jose, and send out an initial “scout” rideshare to see if the coast is clear, before calling in more of their friends. The CDFW says that they’ve cited 214 people over a two-month period, and the offense comes with a $485 fine.

But a follow-up report from KPIX notes another reason you should not be poaching these crabs early: It’s a serious threat to the Dungeness crab population. That station points out that any crabs close to shore are likely females who are there so they can lay eggs. A female Dungeness crab can reportedly carry up to two million eggs, several hundred of which will make it to hatching. So stealing one of those crabs is robbing the population of hundreds in the next season.

Moreover, out-of-season meat will be of lower quality, according to SF Crab Boat Owners Association president John Burnett.

The crabs are “starting to eat, and they aren't a good product to harvest, and they need to get that weight on them so they can lay eggs," Barnett told KPIX. "Anytime someone takes any species — crab, salmon, tuna, halibut — out of season, there's a great impact because the seasons are created to try to give the biomass time to reproduce."

The CDFW’s Lieutenant James Ober adds that out-of-season poaching has consequences that last for years, because poachers are annihilating the egg and potential hatchling population. "It would have a major impact, not so much on this fishery season, but in the next two- to three-year fishery," he told KPIX.

So when does legal Dungeness crab season start this year? According to the CDFW website, “The season is expected to re-open on November 4, 2023.” That’s next weekend! But we’re not holding our breath, as the start of the season has been delayed most years in recent memory due to impacts on whale migration.

Still, don’t go poaching Dungeness crabs early, because people, there’s a reason for the season.

Related: Crab Bandits Strike Whole Foods Delivery [SFist]

Image: @Rodeshow1 via Twitter