The start of California’s commercial Dungeness crab fishing season has been delayed for a second time because of a high risk that migrating humpback whales may become entangled in the fishing gear, state officials announced Friday.
In late October, the season was pushed back from Nov. 15 to Dec. 1. On Friday, officials with the California Fish and Wildlife Department said the season would be delayed even further, with the next assessment to determine the risk of whale entanglement scheduled for around Dec. 7.
There have been 16 confirmed humpback whale entanglements off the coast of California this year, including four that were confirmed to be entangled in Dungeness crab gear.
On Nov. 11, a humpback whale was reported to be entangled in the Monterey Bay in California commercial Dungeness crab gear. As of Nov. 17, at least 24 whales have been confirmed entangled off the West Coast, according to CDFW.
In the far northern stretches of the California Coast, officials said the season was being delayed for a different reason: testing had revealed poor crab meat quality.
Recreational crabbers along parts of the Central Coast, including Santa Cruz County, will also continue to face restrictions on using traps, though CDFW has stopped short of a complete ban. Recreational crabbers can still catch Dungeness crab using hoop nets and crab snares.
The humpback whale population that migrates along the California coast is endangered, according to the federal Endangered Species Act, and more than 75% of entanglements in fishing gear are fatal. Because of this, the National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing to upgrade the California commercial Dungeness crab fishery to a Category 1 fishery, a designation for fisheries that have a frequent likelihood of seriously injuring or killing marine mammals. It’s also considering ways that it could work with the Dungeness crab fishery to reduce serious injury and death of whales from entanglement.
This is the sixth year in a row that the season has been pushed back. CDFW’s decision to extend the delay of the crab season this year follows a truncated crab season that didn’t open until Dec. 31, 2022, only to close on April 15. Fishermen also faced the cancellation of this year’s salmon season. Last year’s late start meant fishermen missed holiday opportunities and once season finally opened, a glut of crab flooded the market resulting in lower prices.
The conditions for local commercial fishermen are “really bad,” Tim Obert, president of the Santa Cruz Commercial Fishermen’s Association, told Jessica M. Pasko earlier this month. “This is the worst year I’ve seen before.”