California to Lift Whale Entanglement Restrictions on Dungeness Crab Fishery on January 15 - Oceana USA

California to Lift Whale Entanglement Restrictions on Dungeness Crab Fishery on January 15

California Commercial and Recreational Dungeness Crab Fisheries May Operate at Full Capacity

Press Release Date: January 11, 2023

Location: Sacramento, CA


Ashley Blacow | email: | tel: Ashley Blacow

Today the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced they are lifting the 50% gear reduction and recreational trap restriction in Fishing Zones 3-6 (all areas south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line). This is in response to an assessment of low risk of entanglement as most whales have left waters off California on their annual migration. Following measures to prevent entanglements including a delayed opener and limits on the number of traps, the recreational fishery may begin to use traps on January 14 and the commercial fishery may operate at full capacity beginning January 15 during this period of low risk. Oceana supports the move and applauds CDFW and the Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group for their 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. The restrictions put on the fleet this season have served their purpose, as no whales were observed entangled, and now most humpbacks have left for the winter. We wish the fishing community safety and success as the restrictions are lifted while remaining cautious consistent with the Department’s Fleet Advisory to remain vigilant and avoid setting gear in areas where whales are transiting or foraging. Far too many humpback whales have been entangled in recent years and we can’t afford any more entanglements.”

“Now that the season will be fully open, we encourage fishermen and fishery managers to support and prioritize authorization of pop-up fishing gear as an alternative fishing gear. Pop-up gear provides a reliable, viable opportunity for crabbers to be out on the water even when whales or sea turtles are in the area, reduces the economic impacts of fishery closures for conventional crab gear, and provides 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 hope to see Experimental Fishing Permits issued to allow pop-up gear this spring, which 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 in 2022, three of which were confirmed in California commercial Dungeness crab gear. The three-year average “impact score” of confirmed entanglements statewide currently exceeds the regulatory trigger for management action, and the Department has issued a fleet advisory to the commercial and recreational fisheries to avoid setting gear in areas where whales are transiting or foraging. The California Dungeness crab opener was delayed until December 31 this season, and fishermen on the central coast were only allowed to use 50% of their traps. The use of traps for recreational crab fishing has been prohibited to prevent whale entanglements since early November.  The California Fish and Game Commission will be considering at least two Experimental Fishing Permit applications that would allow for commercial testing of pop-up crabbing gear this spring.

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.