(CN) — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday delayed the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season, citing the need to protect humpback whales and other ocean life from entanglement.
The delay — which will remain in effect until further notice — affects the taking and possession of commercially-caught Dungeness crab for 200 nautical miles extending from the California coastline.
Deploying and using crab traps in a recreational fishery is prohibited in those nautical miles from the California-Oregon border to Cape Mendocino, as well as from the Sonoma/Mendocino county line to Lopez Point in Monterey County, an area that contains the San Francisco Bay. This is an expansion of an existing prohibition, adding the northernmost fishing area. That prohibition becomes effective Nov. 26.
Additionally, a fleet advisory is in effect for recreational Dungeness crab, reminding fisheries to maintain best practices.
The next risk assessment is scheduled for around Dec. 7
Charlton H. Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, pointed in his written decision to whale sightings as the reason for the delay to the start of the commercial season, which usually begins in late November.
Bonham cited the Oct. 30-31 sighting of up 13 blue and fin whales and 46 humpback whales in the northernmost fishing zone. Surveys on four days in mid-October spotted between 35 and 68 humpback whales in the fishing zone containing the Bay Area. Between 31 and 62 humpback whales were seen in the fishing zone containing Monterey on two days early in early November.
Friday’s decision falls on the heels of a late October call by the department to restrict recreational and commercial crab fishing in the state.
“The state’s decision to further delay the opening of California’s Dungeness crab season rightfully protects the lives of humpback whales,” said Ben Grundy, oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “But with pop-up gear, we have the technology to avoid these delays entirely in the future. Pop-up traps protect marine life by getting static lines out of the water and let fishers harvest crab as soon as it’s in season. We just need California to approve this gear and help fund the transition.”
Pop-up gear is a trap that requires no lines or rope running from a buoy to a cage beneath the ocean. Some gear uses acoustic signals sent to the ocean floor, causing the cage to surface.
Grundy noted that the new prohibition came about a week after reports of a humpback whale was entangled in Dungeness crab gear. The report about the Nov. 11 entanglement included a preliminary recommendation for Bonham to delay the commercial season.
According to the department, whale entanglements have increased over recent years on the West Coast. That has led the department to take steps to understand and mitigate the causes of these entanglements.
One of those steps was the 2020 creation of the Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program. Now, the department assesses marine life entanglement risk for humpback and blue whales, as well as leatherback sea turtles, at least monthly.
When entanglement risk is heightened, the department will include a working group and review information before taking action. Those actions can include fleet advisories, fishing depth restrictions and fishery closures.
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