California Commercial Dungeness Crab Season to Open on Dec 31 - Oceana USA

California Commercial Dungeness Crab Season to Open on Dec 31

Opening includes measures to help protect endangered humpback whales

Press Release Date: December 22, 2022

Location: Sacramento, CA


Jamie Karnik | email: | tel: Jamie Karnik

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today announced the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab fishery under a Fleet Advisory and a 50% gear reduction for Fishing Zones 3-6 (all areas south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line). This is the latest action to protect endangered humpback whales from becoming entangled in vertical fishing lines used with crab traps off the central and south coasts. Oceana applauds CDFW and the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group for its diligence to safeguard whales this season.

Dr. Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist, and a member of the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, issued the following statement:

“We commend the efforts of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group for prioritizing the safety of whales, ensuring these magnificent animals could feed and migrate towards their breeding grounds off Mexico and Central America without the risk of entanglement. With more whales now on their way from our shores and arriving at their calving grounds, Oceana supports the Dungeness crab season opener with the additional protections included—welcome news for consumers who want to enjoy this local seafood without deadly consequences to marine mammals and sea turtles. However, we hope to see fishermen and fishery managers proceed with caution as per the Department’s Fleet Advisory, as far too many humpback whales have been entangled in recent years and we can’t afford any more entanglements.”

“Moving forward, pop-up fishing gear can provide a reliable, viable opportunity for crabbers to be out on the water, reduce the economic impacts of fishery closures for conventional crab gear, and provide consumer confidence that their crab is whale-safe. Pop-up gear stores the line and buoy with the trap on the seafloor until fishermen are ready to retrieve the gear, alleviating the entanglement risk as there are no vertical lines in the water. The state of California and crab fishermen should work together to authorize pop-up gear that will benefit fishermen’s livelihoods, whales, and seafood consumers.”

Vertical fishing lines used in commercial Dungeness crab gear pose significant entanglement risks to whales as the lines can wrap around a whale’s mouth, fluke, or pectoral fins. According to NOAA Fisheries, roughly 75 percent of reported whale entanglements are fatal as whales can drag the heavy fishing gear for months, hindering their ability to dive and feed. This can result in malnutrition, starvation, infection to damaged flukes or tails and even severed appendages and drowning. According to CDFW, there have been 16 confirmed entanglements of humpback whales reported off California this year, three of which were confirmed in California commercial Dungeness crab gear. The number of confirmed entanglements statewide exceeded the three-year regulatory trigger which requires management action in 2022 and 2023.

For more information on Oceana’s campaign to prevent entanglements off the U.S. West Coast visit