California Closes Commercial Dungeness Crab Season to Protect Whales

California Closes Commercial Dungeness Crab Season to Protect Whales

A humpback whale breaches off the California coast. (Matthew Savoca/Handout via Reuters)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

4/2/2024

Updated: 4/2/2024

California officials will close commercial Dungeness crab season from Mendocino County to the Mexican border beginning April 8 to protect the increasing numbers of humpback whales returning to forage off the coast.
North of Mendocino County, crab fishing will also be restricted after 6 p.m. April 8, prohibiting crab traps used by commercial operators beyond the 30-fathom line off the coast, which is about 180 feet deep.
Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham assessed the risk to whales migrating off the California coast in mid-March and found humpback whale numbers increasing, raising the risk that they could become entangled in commercial fishing lines, according to a March 28 press release.
The state will also ban recreational crab traps starting after 6 p.m. April 8 from the Sonoma and Mendocino County line to Point Conception, about 45 miles west of Santa Barbara.
A statewide fleet advisory is still in effect for commercial and recreational crabbers. Boat operators are advised to avoid setting gear in areas where whales are present.
“Crabbers should anticipate additional management measures in the coming weeks,” the department said in the press release.
The next scheduled risk assessment--when the state surveys whale populations off the coast by sea and air—is scheduled for mid-April.
The state opened commercial crab fishing beginning in Northern California above Mendocino County on Jan. 5 after delaying it last year for fear of more whale entanglements.
The fish and wildlife department has taken several steps in recent years to better understand and try to mitigate whale entanglements through a risk assessment program called RAMP, which was implemented Nov. 1, 2020.
The program calls for a monthly assessment of marine life entanglement risk for humpback and blue whales, and Pacific leatherback sea turtles.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed 23 whale entanglements in commercial fishing gear off the California coast in 2022, the latest numbers available. Humpback whales continue to be the most common species to become entangled, with 18 confirmed occurrences in 2022, NOAA reported. Ten gray whales, one transient killer whale, and one fin whale were also entangled.
The number of entanglements on the West Coast rose substantially after 2013, when the average number was consistently less than 10 per year, according to NOAA. Contributing factors include changing ocean conditions, shifting patterns in fishing and other human activities, increased public visibility and reporting, and increased numbers of whales in the area, NOAA said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced in September 2023 its intent to create a team to reduce Pacific humpback whale entanglements in fishing gear. The service committed to form the team by Oct. 31, 2025, under a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, a environmental activist organization based in Tucson, Arizona.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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