FORT BRAGG, CA, 11/1/22 — The commercial Dungeness crab season will open late this year due to entanglement risk for humpback whales, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced Friday. CDFW said aerial and vessel-based surveys on the presence of humpback whales, blue whales, and leatherback sea turtles determined that too many animals remain in California’s fishing zones statewide for the fishery to open as scheduled. Pending results of a risk assessment later this month, the department plans to open the fishery Dec. 1.
Fort Bragg has seen the impact of these high whale numbers firsthand, as two deceased humpback whales have washed ashore here in as many months. Experts aren’t surprised by these strandings considering the current high concentration of humpbacks off the Mendocino Coast; The cause of their deaths is unknown.
Recreational crab trapping is also temporarily restricted, according to the release from CDFW. The restriction will remain in place until lifted by CDFW, but fishing by hoop nets and crab snares will be allowed statewide beginning Nov. 5.
“We will continue to work with both the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries to protect whales and sea turtles while striving to maximize fishing opportunity,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “We appreciate the ongoing commitment by the fleet and the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group to protect these incredible animals. These partnerships will continue to shape the future of both fisheries, and we look forward to continuing the important work of providing fishing opportunity in the coming weeks.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, at least 11 humpback whales have been entangled in fishing gear in California’s waters this year; the Center said three of those can be definitively tied to the Dungeness crab fishery.
“With so many humpback whales [along California’s coast] and a large number of entanglements already this year, delaying the crab season is the safest move,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center. “State officials are right to be cautious, and we support their decision to put off crabbing a little longer for the sake of our endangered whales.”
The Center explained in a news release that entanglements in vertical ropes connected to heavy commercial crab traps cause injuries and death as the ropes cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength, and can lead to drowning. Even if a whale survives, scientists have found that entanglements can decrease the fertility of females and stunt growth.
More information related to the risk assessment process can be found on CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page. More information about the Dungeness crab fishery is available here.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.