Northern Calif. Commercial Dungeness Crab Depth Restrictions and Closure of Central Calif. Recreational Crab Fishing to Take Effect May 15 to Protect Whales from Entanglement - Oceana USA

Northern Calif. Commercial Dungeness Crab Depth Restrictions and Closure of Central Calif. Recreational Crab Fishing to Take Effect May 15 to Protect Whales from Entanglement

CDFW Director announces additional measures due to increased whale presence in the region and following recent sightings of entangled whales off California

Press Release Date: May 2, 2023

Location: Sacramento, Calif.


Ashley Blacow | email: | tel: Ashley Blacow

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced a new depth restriction beginning May 15 for commercial Dungeness crab fishing for all areas north of Point Arena (along the Sonoma-Mendocino County line) to help limit the risk of whales becoming entangled in the vertical fishing lines. Under the depth restriction, commercial crab pots cannot be placed in waters deeper than 30-fathoms (180 feet). Also on May 15, recreational fishing for Dungeness crab south of Point Arena will end for the season. The commercial fishery is already closed south of Point Arena due to entanglement risk.

As more whales return to their traditional feeding areas in the region the decision may not go far enough to prevent whale entanglements. In the last month a gray whale was found entangled in commercial crab gear in Northern California waters, while three humpback whales were confirmed entangled in Monterey Bay — one entangled in spot prawn gear and the other two in unidentified gear. A recent survey counted 28 humpback whales off Northern California (Zone 1), exceeding the regulatory trigger of 10 humpback whales. In addition, the number of humpback whales that have been entangled statewide over the last three years is well above the trigger for regulatory action. 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.

Increased numbers of whale entanglements over the past eight years led to the creation of the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group, a group of fishing representatives, conservation organizations, fishery managers, disentanglement teams, and scientific advisors who assess data, monitor whale activity, and make recommendations on measures to prevent whale entanglements.

Pop-up” fishing gear is a viable way to fish for crab safely in the presence of whales, as fishing lines and buoys remain with traps on the seafloor until the gear is ready to be retrieved. This removes the entanglement threat caused by vertical fishing lines spanning hundreds of feet in the water for days on end. The California Fish and Game Commission recently approved the first two Experimental Fishing Permits for pop-up gear to allow fishermen to commercially test this whale-safe fishing method when whales are present this spring.

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:

“As migrating whales return to the California coast, we have a responsibility to ensure they can swim and feed without the risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear, which too often has deadly consequences. While we applaud the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group for their dedicated efforts to protect whales, Oceana is concerned that these depth restrictions do not go far enough to prevent entanglements as more and more whales will continue arriving before the Northern California crabbing season ends. The decision to leave the fishery open is extremely risky, not only for the whales but also for future crab fishing opportunities off the entire state as federal laws may require stricter regulations on the fishery. Humpback whales in particular are at risk of becoming entangled in vertical fishing lines as they frequently feed in shallow waters where the fishery is still allowed, and scientists recently observed anchovies — a primary food source — to be widespread in that area. We need to be more precautionary if California is serious about reversing the unfortunate trend of high numbers of whale entanglements that we’ve seen in recent years.”

“At the same time we are pleased to see opportunities to test pop-up crab gear this year under experimental fishing permits. We are optimistic that as crabbers test the gear this spring fishermen, seafood markets, and consumers will see the advantages. We hope to see the California Department of Fish and Wildlife authorize pop-up gear so all Dungeness crab fishermen can continue crabbing when areas are closed to conventional gear to protect whales.”

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

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 to learn more.