For the third time this year, the commercial Dungeness crab fishing season has been delayed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, this time until at least the end of the year.
The decision to delay the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season was driven by the risk and dangers of humpback whales becoming entangled in fishing lines.
The season was initially delayed in October after Fish and Wildlife confirmed three humpback whales were found entangled in commercial fishing gear. Another eight whales were entangled in unknown, possibly commercial or recreational fishing gear.
Whales swim and hunt regularly in areas along the Pacific coast that are included in recreational crabbing areas.
While the whales were still swarming, Fish and Wildlife says there are too many whales in the fisheries to allow crabbing season to begin.
The state uses a point system that is used with automatic triggers to determine whether or not to open the waters for crabbing. Among these triggers are the concentration of observed whales and confirmed reports of entanglements. If too many whales are observed in the fishing areas or if several entanglements are reported, Pêche et Faune will request a delay.
California crabbing regulations are enforced by zone.
Zones 1 and 2 encompass the northern California coast. Zone 3 includes San Francisco Bay and Zone 4 contains Monterey Bay, and Zone 5 covers Morro Bay. Zone 6 covers the southernmost part of the coastline from Point Conception to the Mexican border.
Currently, the only way to catch a crab legally with a trap is to do so recreationally in Zones 1 or 2. This means there is no crabbing of any kind along the coast. southern California.
The 2021-22 crab season in California was halted in early March following two humpback whale entanglements. The traditional closing of the season is June 30. Humpback whales are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
According to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approximately two dozen whales are entangled in fishing gear along the California coast each year.
In total, at least 16 whales have been confirmed to have been entangled this year alone.
Catherine Kilduff, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, applauded the decision to delay the crab fishing season again.
“This is absolutely the right decision. While the humpback whales are still out there, not crabbing ensures they will be safe,” Kilduff said. “I appreciate that those responsible for the State of California closely monitors endangered whales.
Kilduff added that delays like this will continue unless the commercial fishing industry adapts to methods that protect protected species like humpback whales.
“Until the fishing industry switches to ropeless gear, it’s crucial not to put lines in the water that could entangle some of the ocean’s most majestic creatures,” he said. she adds.
Fish and Wildlife will reassess the risk of humpback whale entanglement on Dec. 22, but a decision won’t be expected until at least Dec. 30, meaning crabbing for Christmas is likely off the table.
KRON’s Amy Larsen contributed to this story.
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