For the fifth year in a row, California officials are delaying the commercial Dungeness crab season in the Bay Area to reduce the chance of migrating whales now offshore getting entangled in crab fishing lines. -pot.
The season is set to begin November 15 in waters from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line south to the Mexican border.
The order came down on Friday afternoon from Charlton H. Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Large aggregations of humpback whales continue to search between Bodega Bay and Monterey and allowing the use of crab traps will increase the risk of entanglement in fishing grounds,” he said in announcing the decision, which made in consultation with representatives of the fishing industry, environmental organizations and scientists.
Although another assessment will take place on or about Nov. 17, a season opening date for California residents to enjoy Dungeness for Nov. 23 Thanksgiving holiday is unlikely. That assessment could, however, lead to an opening date of Dec. 1, officials said.
The recreational Dungeness season will be allowed to begin as scheduled on Nov. 4 – but there are restrictions. Crabbers may not use trap gear, according to state order; Only hoop nets and crab snares will be allowed until further inspection.
Oceana, an ocean conservation organization based in Washington, DC, applauded the postponement and equipment limitations.
The hardiness of whales that swim or feed ashore can have tragic consequences, said scientist Geoff Shester, campaign director of the group in California. He is a member of the advisory California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Working Group.
Shester said his group, like the state, is committed to finding solutions that work for the crab fishing industry while ensuring “safer passage for wildlife on our beaches.”
Since 2015, there have been delays in all but one commercial Dungeness season in the Bay Area. A toxin, domoic acid, that makes anyone who eats the dirty crab sick has ruined Northern California’s 2015-2016 commercial season and caused delays in other years.
In 2018, the commercial season began without a hitch even though recreational crabbers had to postpone their fishing.
In 2019 and 2020, fishing line danger to whales resulted in crabbing being delayed for several weeks. The 2020 crabbing season was officially set to begin on December 23, but price negotiations between crab fleets and seafood processors delayed the start until early January 2021.
With delays to protect whales, the truncated 2021-22 season ran from December 29 to April 8, and the 2022-23 season from December 31 to this past April 15.