Dungeness Crab Fishing Season Further Delayed off Central California to Prevent Whale Entanglements
Press Release Date: November 21, 2022
Location: Sacramento, Calif.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced further delay in the season opener for California commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fishing off the central coast. Humpback whales continue to feed off central California waters in numbers that are too high to safely allow conventional commercial or recreational crab trap gear, according to CDFW’s Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program criteria. Concentrations of whales and sea turtles off Point Arena to the Oregon border are below the threshold, allowing for CDFW to open recreational crab trap fishing in northern California beginning November 28. However, the crab meat content is low in northern California which — together with the elevated entanglement risk off central California — is driving a continued statewide season delay for the commercial fishery at least to December 16.
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 15 confirmed entanglements of humpback whales reported off California this year, three of which were confirmed in California commercial Dungeness crab gear.
The next assessment to determine the risk of whale entanglements is scheduled for December 5.
Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist, and a member of the California Dungeness Crab Working Group, issued the following statement:
“We support the decision by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to safeguard humpback whales from the risk of entanglement, providing them with safe feeding grounds off the central California coast as they finish their annual migration. We commend the ongoing efforts to find ways to catch Dungeness crab while minimizing the risk to whales and sea turtles, and we remain committed to working with all stakeholders to continue to find the best solutions to ensure a healthy crab fishery and safer passage for wildlife off our shores.
Pop-up fishing gear is a way to prevent whale entanglements while providing additional fishing opportunities, particularly at times when areas are closed to conventional crab traps — gear that uses vertical lines attaching the trap on the seafloor to a buoy at the surface. Pop-up gear stores the rope and buoy with the trap on the seafloor until fishermen are ready to retrieve the gear. We look forward to a day when whale-safe Dungeness crab caught by pop-up gear is available for Californian’s tables which will support fishermen’s livelihoods and the safety of whales and sea turtles. To make that a reality, we strongly urge the state of California and crab fishermen to work together to authorize pop-up gear.”
For more information on Oceana’s campaign to prevent entanglements off the U.S. West Coast visit www.oceana.org/whalesafeoceans