California Dungeness Crab Season Delays Are Extended Off Central Coast to Protect Whales - Oceana USA

California Dungeness Crab Season Delays Are Extended Off Central Coast to Protect Whales

Use of Innovative Pop-up Gear Can Provide Additional Fishing Opportunities While Preventing Whale Entanglements in the Future

Press Release Date: December 7, 2022



Ashley Blacow | email: | tel: Ashley Blacow

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced that the existing statewide closures for commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fishing off central and southern California will remain in effect — at least through December 30 — to protect humpback whales from becoming entangled in fishing gear as they feed and migrate in large numbers in these regions. Commercial harvest of Dungeness crab also remains delayed off northern California due to low meat quality, although recreational catch was allowed to begin in the region on November 28. The California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group – comprised of commercial and recreational crab fishermen, scientists, and conservation organizations – unanimously supported the continued season delay.

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. Recent vessel and aerial surveys indicated high numbers of humpback whales remain in the feeding grounds off the central coast. CDFW is concerned that whales could become entangled in fishing gear off the southern part of the state as they make their annual migration towards their breeding grounds off Mexico and Central America.

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 has exceeded the three-year regulatory trigger requiring management action. The next assessment to determine the risk of whale entanglements is currently scheduled for December 20.

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 who unanimously supported the continued season delay to safeguard humpback whales from the risk of entanglement in their feeding grounds and migratory paths. Elevated whale entanglement risk is becoming the new norm in the fall and spring months, so the crab fishing season with conventional vertical line gear is likely to get shorter and shorter. However, 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. We urge the state of California and crab fishermen to work together to authorize pop-up gear which will support fishermen’s livelihoods and protect the safety of whales and sea turtles.”

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

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 225 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit to learn more.