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California further restricts crab traps after whales get entangled in gear

The state's Department of Fish and Wildlife had already halted commercial crab fisheries in Central and Southern California last month.

(CN) — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced new restrictions on commercial and recreational crabbing after two humpback whales got entangled in lines that might have been used to trap crabs.

California Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham on Tuesday announced that as of May 15 commercial Dungeness crab fishers in Northern California, above Point Arena in Mendocino County, cannot put their traps in water that's more than 30 fathom (180 feet) deep. Recreational crabbers won't be allowed to use traps to catch Dungeness in the coastal waters south of Point Arena as of May 15, the department said.

Last month, the department closed the commercial Dungeness crab fisheries along the coast of Central and Southern California to minimize entanglement risk for humpback whales as they return to forage off the coast of California, as well as in response to several entanglements that occurred in March and April of 2022. 

The additional restrictions announced Tuesday came after two humpback whales were observed late April in Monterey Bay entangled in fishing gear that was unidentified but of the same type used in commercial Dungeness crab fishery, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The department will continue to monitor the whale migrations off the California coast to decide if further restrictions might be warranted, spokesman Ryan Bartling said.

“For whales’ safety, Dungeness crab lines should be out of the water entirely by now,” Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in response to the new restrictions. "Using ropeless fishing gear is the only whale-safe way to fish off the California coast this time of year. Unfortunately, the department hasn’t authorized any alternative types of gear.”

There was also a gray whale entangled in likely California Dungeness crab gear near Shelter Cove, in Northern California, according to Kilduff, and a humpback entangled in spot prawn gear near Moss Landing in Monterey Bay.

Dungeness crab is the most abundant crab species off the California coast, according to Fish and Wildlife, but decreases rapidly in abundance south of Monterey Bay. A California bill that would have required the use of ropeless gear in Dungeness crab and other trap fisheries by 2025 failed to get a hearing in the state assembly two years ago.

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Categories / Environment, Government, Regional

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