Central California Dungeness Crab Season to Close Early to Prevent Whale Entanglements - Oceana USA

Central California Dungeness Crab Season to Close Early to Prevent Whale Entanglements

Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Announces April 15 End Date to Safeguard Whales Returning to California

Press Release Date: March 30, 2023

Location: Sacramento


Ashley Blacow | email: ablacow@oceana.org | tel: Ashley Blacow

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced an early season closure off Central California to prevent whale entanglements in the state’s Dungeness crab fisheries as whales begin arriving in large numbers to feed. All commercial Dungeness crab fishing will end by April 15 for areas south of Point Arena (along the Sonoma-Mendocino County line), which includes waters off San Francisco and Monterey Bay. Prior to whale entanglement concerns, the season in this area normally ended on June 30. Areas north of Point Arena will remain open to commercial crabbing under a fleet advisory, and recreational fishing for Dungeness crab remains open statewide.

Whale entanglements have been an ongoing concern in California over the past eight years, and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group composed of fishing representatives, conservation groups, fishery managers, and scientific advisors regularly assesses data and makes recommendations on measures, including closing certain fishing zones, to prevent future entanglements. According to NOAA Fisheries, roughly 75 percent of reported whale entanglements are fatal as whales often drag the heavy fishing gear for months, hindering their ability to dive and feed.

“Pop-up” fishing gear for crab could become a way for some fishermen to keep fishing even in the presence of whales, as fishing lines and buoys remain with the traps on the seafloor until the gear is ready to be retrieved. Pop-up gear removes the entanglement threat caused by vertical fishing lines spanning hundreds of feet in the water for days on end. New Experimental Fishing Permits for pop-up gear will allow further testing of this whale-safe fishing method this spring for the first time ever when whales are present.   

In response to today’s announcement 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:

“Whales will soon arrive off our shores in large numbers to feast on krill and small fish, and when they arrive it’s heartening to know they will hopefully be able to find the food they need without the risk of becoming entangled in a fishing line. We applaud the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director and the efforts of the Working Group for taking a precautionary and proactive approach given the high number of entanglements we’ve seen in the last two seasons.”

“We’re also encouraged by the state and federal funding assistance provided to fishermen to commercially fish with pop-up fishing gear in California under the first ever experimental permits for crabbers to test the gear this spring. Hopefully fishermen will take advantage of these opportunities. We believe that with strong science, new gear technologies, and a collaborative approach that we can find the best solutions to keep fishermen on the water with whale-safe fishing methods.”

For more information on pop-up gear please see Oceana’s new report: Pathway to Pop-up Fishing Gear

For more information on Oceana’s campaign to prevent whale entanglements please visit www.oceana.org/whalesafeoceans

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-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 275 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, 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 Oceana.org to learn more.