Today the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published final regulations to reduce entanglements of endangered humpback whales, blue whales and Pacific leatherback sea turtles in the state’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery. In recent years, whales have ventured closer to shore in search of food and that has put them directly in the Dungeness crab fishing grounds, resulting in a major increase in entanglements off the West Coast with the federal government confirming at least 56 entangled whales in 2016.
According to federal experts, roughly 75 percent of reported whale entanglements are fatal, as animals can become anchored to the gear and are injured or infected, lose flukes or other appendages, and in some cases are unable to surface to breathe so they drown. The regulations will go into effect on November 1 and require closures or reductions of the number of traps in certain Dungeness crab fishing areas when higher concentrations of whales or sea turtles are present. Areas can also be closed due to confirmed whale or sea turtle entanglements. The rules will allow approved alternative fishing gear that lowers the risk of entanglement, such as “pop-up” gear, to be used in areas closed to conventional gear. The rules require fishermen to report the location, depth, and quantity of traps they are using, and require a transition to electronic monitoring of fishing locations by 2023.
“We commend these new regulations as a significant step toward preventing tragic entanglements of whales and sea turtles while still supporting an incredibly important fishery and providing opportunities for all of us to enjoy fresh crab here in California,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist for Oceana, who is also a member of the California Dungeness crab fishing gear working group that advises fishery managers on management measures and gear innovations to prevent entanglements. “These new regulations will help make sure that while trying to catch crab we’re not also harming whales and sea turtles. We welcome the new opportunity to test and expand innovative pop-up gear to allow for safer and more sustainable crab fishing in the future. Sadly, gear entanglement occurs everywhere in the world’s oceans, and if we can solve the crab pot line problem here, we could help provide solutions to prevent entanglements around the world.”
Pop-up fishing gear—sometimes called “ropeless” gear—involves systems where lines remain with the trap on the ocean floor instead of hanging unattended in the water for days connected to a surface buoy. In some pop-up methods, a signal from a fishing boat releases a flotation device connected to the trap on the ocean floor, and fishermen can retrieve the trap upon arriving. Since 2018, Oceana has been partnering with Dungeness crab fishermen to conduct initial tests of pop-up gear off California. The California Ocean Protection Council approved funding for pop-up gear testing in the upcoming crab season with support from the California Dungeness crab working group.
Humpback and blue whales visit California each year from winter grounds in Mexico and Central America to feed, while Pacific leatherback sea turtles undertake a 6,000-mile journey each year from Indonesia to California to feed on jellyfish and other forage species. Crab pot or trap fishing methods, where vertical lines connect gear on the seafloor to surface buoys can entangle these animals, with Dungeness crab gear being the most common gear identified in entanglements off the West Coast.
“Whales and sea turtles swim thousands of miles each year to find food off our shores, and recently too often they’ve found themselves tangled up in fishing lines instead,” said Shester. “We are working together with fishermen, scientists, disentanglement teams, and fishery managers to find ways to protect these incredible animals while maintaining a vibrant crab fishery.”
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife released final regulations after an extensive stakeholder process involving public input from Californians through their Whale Safe Fisheries program.
Click here for Oceana’s newly released report on whale and sea turtle entanglements off the U.S. West Coast
Click here to watch Oceana’s new video on whale and sea turtle entanglements narrated by Alexandra Cousteau.
Visit www.oceana.org/whalesafeoceans for more information on Oceana’s campaign to prevent entanglements off the U.S. West Coast.
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 www.usa.oceana.org to learn more.